note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Jeff Gardiner's grand Tudor sun parlor set, strewn with pots, ferns and a flying settee, suggests above all that eccentrics reside in the enormous attached (off stage) manor house. You trip to director Polly Hogan's whimsy even before "Misalliance" starts. As you're surveying the opulent set, you notice that Joe Zamparelli is perched high above the aspidistras in a suspended wooden settee... then you think you hear the eerie high soprano of a theramin....followed by a wacky Gilbert & Sullivan rendition of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic."
Then the fun begins. George Bernard Shaw may have set out to shake our complacency but he knew how to tickle a funny bone and even his most revolutionary rhetoric is so charming you forgive him his diatribes.
The misalliance of the title is the unstable mixture of the "great middle class" with "the corrupt aristocracy," something Miss Hypatia Tarleton is about to do by marrying "an expensive little dog" of a man who has never worked a day in his life. Hypatia is the free thinking daughter of a self made dynamo who owes his success in the undergarment business, he says, to the great ideas he finds in books.
No sooner does Hypatia express her desperate desire for some pre-marital adventure (Her father says she expects it "to drop out of the sky") when a handsome pilot crashes his plane into their greenhouse. Shaw doesn't hesitate to wag his finger at us for "never tiring" of the plot device ("which particular man a young lady will mate with") but he delivers on it nonetheless, using the device like a May pole to wrap all his politics around.
He rails AGAINST privilege and hypocrisy and FOR sexual equality and free love. "Misalliance" was written ten years before "Pygmalion" so it's amusing to see Alfred P. Doolittle in the "Misalliance's" anarchist. You can easily imagine Hypatia's speeches in Eliza Doolittle's mouth: Both women want to break free of dominating father figures. Both toy with the idea of marrying spineless aristocrats and both want "action" not "talk". Both Hypatia's father and Henry Higgins disdain the upper crust and spout off about class distinction.
Shaw manages to juggle a dozen or more philosophical balls in the air, even going so far as to introduce an actual acrobat into the fray. Act II puts all the balls up at once, caroming around the stage with reckless abandon. Sparkling performances from Sheila Stasack as the wild, "vital" Polish acrobat (with a show stopping monologue against marriage) and Alisha Jansky as the headstrong Hypatia, as well as June Murphy-Katz as the wily matriarch.
Strong performances allow the men to give as good as they get: Ron Ritchell plays the irascible patriarch with a gleam in his eye and a lick on his lips at the mere thought of a lusty Solomon and Sheba. Brian DeLorenzo makes the yapping dog fiancÚ deliciously exasperating. Joe Zamparelli brings dash and nobility to the role of the solid "linen draper". Jim Bodge is sweetly vulnerable as the totalitarian "half-angel/half invalid". Britton White makes a debonair match for Hypatia and Jerry Bisantz is a bona fide Bolshy with the stooped shoulders of the working class and the brave heart of a revolutionary.
Seth Bodie's period costumes cleverly reflect their wearers' social station and Christopher Ostrom's soft summer light bathes the country manor house in warmth. What a delight to spend an evening in such heady company