Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: (Shaw Festival) Misalliance

Krista Colosimo, Ben Sanders (photo credit: David Cooper)

Endless patter...Good endless patter
Shaw Fest delivers a brilliant cast
by Dave Ross

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw is an unfamiliar play to me, but almost anyone I spoke to lit up when I mentioned I was seeing it. It was described to me as a very “talky” play, and even Shaw himself commented that it was “nothing but endless patter.” The story follows the antics of the Tarleton family. The daughter, Hypatia (Krista Colismo), is the heir to the Tarleton Underwear fortune. Her brother Johnny (Jeff Meadows) is set to be the businessman in the family, and Hypatia is engaged to the off-putting Bentley Summerhays (Ben Sanders). There is much discussion of the very-vocal Hypatia’s future: she feels trapped in her existence, and admits early on that she is not in love with Bentley. Indeed, no one in the Tarleton home likes him. Things are thrown into further upheaval when a plane crash-lands on the house, introducing Joey Percival (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) and an exotic foreigner, Lina Szczepanowska (Tara Rosling). 
The material is excellent, funny throughout, and requires only an outstanding cast to bring it to life.

Misalliance is indeed a talky play, but what a play! The dialogue comes fast and furious, and it can at times be hard to keep up, but the speed feels somehow necessary as well. The cast did an amazing job with the dialogue. The script (and the humour spread throughout it) is such that pacing could very easily be a problem, but this cast nailed it, and even more importantly, made it look effortless. Bentley Summerhays is the peevish foil to Johnny Tarleton, and Ben Sanders deserves a special mention for executing this peevishness to a tee. Tara Rosling’s Szczepanowska is perfect comic relief, and her timing is flawless. Indeed, it is difficult to single out cast members for mention as they all did such a ripping job. None of this would be possible without the direction of Eda Holmes, who has clearly guided the cast into creating a flawless production. The set design by Judith Bowden is also wonderful. The entire play is set in one room, the conservatory of the Tarleton home, which could become stagnant. However, Bowden’s design is full of detail and little touches, not to mention the simple yet effective effects designed to simulate a plane crash-landing. 
I saw the play with fellow CharPo contributor Stuart Munro, and he agrees that the production was excellent. His only quibble, and I would have to agree, was the decision to move the play forward to 1962. Some of the dialogue doesn’t fit well with this new era, and indeed, the movement forward seemed to have little to no effect on the story in any case. Indeed, the period setting of the play doesn’t seem to be that important. Shaw’s work is clearly timeless—the jokes are still funny, the references relevant, and the story believable. The material is excellent, funny throughout, and requires only an outstanding cast to bring it to life. The Shaw Festival has found this cast, and I can safely say that this show is a must-see at the Festival this year. 

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