The fourth production of George Bernard Shaw’s second play (last seen in these pages in 2007, cross-reference below) has been given a slightly naughty (the stage direction “a lady and gentleman are making love to one another” is far more literal than even the wily playwright could have imagined—at least in public), inventively humourous (the between-set song celebrating the Old manly/New womanly art of smoking—marvellously led by pop-star-sunglasses-sporting Guy Bannerman as The Spirit of Ibsen and mostly—mid-Act III drags a tad—crisp, forward pacing combine to make director Lisa Peterson’s NOTL début an exceptional triumph.
Sue LePage’s design acumen has seldom been seen to better advantage as the three sets take full advantage of the Festival Theatre’s strengths. Most especially welcome is the sparse, yet medically metaphoric dining-room of Dr. Paramore where the earlier details of a London drawing-room and the Ibsen Club library—replete with the beloved playwright’s most famous characters etched into the wall tops—give way to towering obelisks that purposely dwarf the mere humans below them even as universal truths are declaimed or revealed.
To a person, the nine-member cast is in tip-top form, realizing Peterson’s vision and Shaw’s singular point of view in a manner that will leave audiences thoroughly educated, enraged—you know who you are—and entertained, depending on their history of dalliances past, present or imagined.
In the title role, Gord Rand delivers Leonard Charteris with both the sexual cravings and man-of-the-girls wisdom that truly understands why his marriage to anyone would be a travesty to both partners.
As the curtain (and other bits), er, rises, Charteris and his belle du moment (Marla McLean has just the right tone playing Grace Tranfield as she morphs from hot concubine to sage woman) very nearly experience coitus interuptus due to an unwelcome, unexpected appearance of the philanderer’s apparent fiancée, Julia Craven. The metaphorically named socialite comes to radiant, haughty and resigned life as required thanks to Moya O’Connell’s thorough understanding of the complexities of the part.
Fast on her heels is longtime “legally separated”—all the better to avoid the shame of divorce—Joseph Cuthbertson, father of Grace and a theatre critic, setting up many jibes at those who toil in the dark. Michael Ball is note perfect as the rationalizing Ibsenite who also knows how to achieve the impossible—even if that means a trek to South Dakota! In his company is long-lost, now suddenly found friend, Colonel Craven, Julia’s dad and perpetual pragmatist. Impeccable timing and a wonderful sense of astonishment make Ric Reid’s performance a joy to behold.
Once in the Ibsen Club, where everyone—invited or not—will be partaking of lunch and philosophical banter, Jeff Meadows soon serves notice that his rendering of Dr Paramore will take a nuanced approach that purposely begins slowly before firing on all cylinders at the peak of Act III. Newcomers (actors and patrons alike) should take note of the carefully crafted arc. Rounding out the cast are Harveen Sandhu as the very modern, lavender-infused Sylvia Craven and the gender-fluid Kristi Frank as the club’s ever-efficient page.
Just hours since observing the delicate balance of farce and deep despair with imagined relationships becoming just that (cross-reference below), it is fascinating to enter this world of intended philandering which, eventually, comes full circle. Quite likely, audience members will identify with at least one of the characters in both plays, raising questions in their own hearts or reinforcing the banishment of real feelings and emotions to the farthest corner of their souls. But of course, 30 minutes after the curtains fall, what has just been so fancifully experienced vanishes completely from reality, right? JWR