by Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant contributor.
Even in Edwardian England when many men considered women little more than property, women knew a deeper secret. They were the center of the universe for many a man. Such is the case for “Candida” Pittsburgh Public Theater’s take on the George Bernard Shaw classic play.
Reverend James Mavor Morell (David Whalen), a pious man with more than a streak of socialism is vexed by his materialistic father-in-law Mr. Burgess (John O’Creagh) adored by his secretary, Miss Proserpine Garnett (Meghan Mae O’Neill), and deeply in love with his wife, Candida (Gretchen Egolf).
When Candida (pronounced Can-Did-Da not Can-dee-dah) brings home a stray in the form of a young nobleman and poet, Eugene Marchbanks (Jared McGuire), the status quo erupts, albeit briefly.
Had television been invented when this play was written, it would have been part of a Thursday night line-up. It had a few familiar tropes; the handsome yet repressed hero, his befuddled and lazy sidekick, Lexy Mill (Matthew Minor), and the aforementioned disagreeable father-in-law. It even had the beautiful wife whose name is the title of the show. At one point, the secretary, Miss Garnett calls Morell’s father-in-law a “fathead.” Just like a 60s sitcom, all the toys are put back in the toy box for the status quo is only briefly interrupted.
In the hands of a lesser director, Shaw’s “Candida” would deteriorate into a sitcom, but Ted Pappas saves the show from being a mildly entertaining evening out, into an event; thanks to the talented list of actors in his employ.
The actors elevated the play beyond its stature. For many people, Benedict Cumberbatch or Johnny B. Miller will be Sherlock Holmes. David Whalen will always be Pittsburgh’s Sherlock. He’s played the part deftly in several productions at PICT (Pittsburgh Irish Classical Theatre). Now, Whalen not only embodies the role of the Reverend, he enlivens it.
O’Creagh’s Burgess is a brilliant buffoon. He plays him as a money-grubbing cretin, but you sort of root for him. He spouts off the best lines in the play. He is also the most contemporary of all the characters. Unfortunately, greedy capitalists never go out of style.
Jared McGuire is delightful as the passionate poet, a lunatic for love. In the first act, the timid creature first bares his teeth. In the second act, he bounds around on the furniture like a wild animal. In the third…[spoilers redacted]. It’s a star turn for McGuire.
Egolf is amazing as the eponymous Candida, witty, well-traveled and well-heeled (her costumes perfectly punctuate her character). She is also beautiful, and it’s easy to see why men would fight so vigorously to be in her company.
Minor and O’Neill complete the cast. Another minor (pun not intended) gripe; they’re such fun characters and so well-played, you’re hoping to see more of them.
The set looks as if set designer James Noone time-traveled back to Edwardian England in a battered, blue police box, and plucked it out of the north-east suburbs of London. The set is exquisitely detailed.
There are a lot of ideas Christian Socialism, poetry and materialism laced throughout “Candida,” but luckily you don’t have to know any of that to enjoy the show.
Note; the show has two intermissions, which unnecessarily lengthen the evening.
Shaw wrote the play under an umbrella he dubbed “Plays Pleasant,” a series of comedies he wrote. “Candida” is perfectly pleasant in every way.