Mothering women (raising their husbands and offspring) have been ruling the roost—either real or imagined—since the first family came into being. May/December affairs (most recently having the old-male/babe stereotype given equal time and, er, play by cougars seeking their testosterone-rich, Viagra-shunning prey) have filled courtrooms and theatres for centuries.
Leave it to the ever-inventive mind of George Bernard Shaw to marry both phenomena (and not just a gender-switch/homage to Ibsen’s thoughts on similar material), bringing Candida to the relationship stage in 1897 (then, famously, as the inaugural presentation of the Shaw Festival’s first season in 1962—oh to have been a fly on the wall in order to compare and contrast).
Tadeusz Bradecki’s production has much to admire. From the opening music (Reza Jacobs catches the mood perfectly with a childlike concoction, offering literal vibes, harp and bells), there’s magic in the air. William Schmuck’s recreation of the Reverend James Mavor Morell’s (Nigel Shawn Williams—outstanding once his first pulpit declamations realize that church is not in session) parsonage drawing room is as richly rendered as the text, with only the surprisingly small-framed Assumption of the Virgin (Titian) hitting a false note even as the baby-chair-for-adults would soon serve its expected purpose.
The first scene largely bodes well. Krista Colosimo as Miss Prosperpine Garnett is an appropriately industrious secretary/clean-up employee to Reverend Morell. While the lines pack their punch (the revelation of “brethren” is a hoot), Colosimo’s bellowing tone belies her coming secret love even as Williams appears forced to respond to her bits of dialogue by preaching to the audience. Happily, curiously that mode of delivery is never redeployed in subsequent scenes.
Graeme Somerville’s first entry as Reverend Lexy Mill further contributes to the overall possibility for greatness. His admiration for “the boss” and banter with “Miss Prossy” portend well for comic delights to come. After forewarning the socialist manipulator, bible-thumping preacher that his wife’s father is about to descend on the household (after a three-year absence), Mill is dismissed to his rounds with a silk scarf the likes of which Quentin Crisp would be proud—but that possibility is left for another day.
Father-in-law Burgess is note-perfectly rendered by Norman Browning, oozing business sliminess, incurable chauvinism and a brilliant sendup of psychological “horrors” to assure himself many frames in this production’s highlight reel.
When Mommy Dearest (a.k.a. Candida—Claire Jullien) finally arrives on set, she immediately asserts her authority by telling her doting husband to accept her father’s shallow apology so that “Our quarrel’s made up, now ain’t it?” And that’s that. If there’s any quibble with Shaw, Bradecki and Browning (collectively) it’s that the potential for Burgess to be the oldest child spitting venom in the Matriarch’s sandbox is never as fully exploited as it might have been (just a singular “I’ll have to tell on you” enters the so-immature arena).
The last character to greet the audience—and most certainly the pivotal one—is eighteen-year-old-going-on-forty, poet/aristocrat Eugene Marchbanks. How fascinating—especially just a few days after Brick’s “uncertain” sexuality was front-and-centre in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—if Shaw’s detailed description had been more completely explored: “He is a strange, shy youth of eighteen, slight, effeminate, with a childish voice ….” Wade Bogert-Obrien is ideally cast: he exudes the youthfulness and simmering intellect that his affinity for poetry (written or read) confirms. He’s been costumed to evoke memories of Oscar Wilde. But without a hint of poofter mannerism or giddy lilt betraying a touch of fem, the chance for Candida to control both sides of the street (as the pants-in-the-family to Reverend Morell and beard to Eugene) is never even broached.
And so the debate can begin: Was the true notion of queer Shaw’s intention? Let’s open the discussion even as the young man exits and readers are left with the last stage direction: “They [Reverend Morell and Candida] embrace. But they do not know the secret in the poet’s heart.” JWR