Theater review by Carey Purcell
In George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Candida, the seemingly happy marital life of Reverend James Morell is shaken when his friend, the idealistic young poet Eugene Marchbanks, declares that he is in love with the churchman’s charming wife—and, what’s more, that Morell is not worthy of her. Like many classic romantic triangles, this one has the potential to inspire both comedy and drama. Director David Staller’s current revival for his Gingold Group delivers amply on the former but proves stingy on the latter, stifling the iconoclastic playwright’s examination of gender roles.
One of the most popular plays of the early 1900s, Candida presents thought-provoking arguments on socialism, capitalism and the institution of marriage: Ordered to choose between the two men, our heroine surprises them both by subverting notions of power in both relationships. But in this account, the rivals’ infatuation with her is hard to understand. Avanthika Srinivasan’s Candida—devoted, affectionate and domestic—just isn’t very interesting. Watching her perform household chores appalls Marchbanks, who collapses on the floor in despair at the thought of her chopping onions or cleaning lamps. But her cheerful complacency fails to justify his feverish worship, or to depict her frustration when forced to choose which man she “belongs to.” She appears merely amused by the whole situation.
Edited into a single act and reset in 1920s Harlem, this Candida fares better with the non-titular characters. R.J. Foster imbues Morell with both smugness and charisma, and Avery Whitted is hilarious as Marchbanks, whose over-the-top antics are nearly as impassioned as his declarations of love. Also entertaining are Peter Romano as a naïve curate, Amber Reauchean Williams as a frustrated secretary and David Ryan Smith as Candida’s capitalistic father. But the real star of the show may be Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s set, which packs Morell’s office with piles of books, papers, paintings, children’s toys, records and other bric-a-brac, establishing an atmosphere of comfortable chaos. Like this revival, it’s an amiable mess.
Candida. Theatre Row (Off Broadway). By George Bernard Shaw. Directed by David Staller. With Avanthika Srinivasan, R.J. Foster, Avery Whitted, Peter Romano, David Ryan Smith, Amber Reauchean Williams. Running time: 1hr 40 mins. No intermission.
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