[The following review ran in the Denver Post on February 15th, 2008.]
No one mixes sexual politics and social criticism as well as Shaw. The ease with which his characters express compelling thoughts consistent with their position, and in counterpoint to each other, serves as our quintessential example in the use of dialogue rather than preaching to create meaningful drama from ideas.
In "Candida," now running at the Germinal Stage, Shaw explores his favorite topics in the context of the family and acquaintances of the Reverend James Mavor Morell, a Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England circa 1894. That we find universality in such a setting is another facet of Shavian mastership.
The Rev. James' boundless enthusiasm, sympathy, and wit are sustained by the admiration of his congregation, members of various lecture-driven societies, his employees, and his wife, Candida. One fine day, his virtuous world is put to the test by Eugene Marchbanks—an 18-year-old poet, Oxford dropout, and castaway—who declares his love for Candida while disparaging James' treatment of her.
James' self-confidence is disrupted by Eugene, and then shaken by Candida's generosity toward the young man. A complex dialectical interplay for the heart of Candida ensues between the idealistic poet and the pragmatic preacher. Shaw's vision of liberated womanhood comes to the fore as Candida weighs the merits of the two men and their perspectives.
Disarmingly breezy and engaging, Lisa Mumpton's Candida remains above the fray, giving her the stature, when forced by the men to choose between them, to supplant her husband as the moral rudder of this tale. Mumpton makes Candida's reconciliation of the conflict look easy and natural, though the outcome has been surprisingly troublesome to some feminists.
James' character, described in detail by Shaw in the stage notes that precede Act I, is impeccably addressed by David Fenerty, beginning with the Rev's well-spoken, energetic, and genial disposition, carrying through his crisis of faith, and culminating in his willingness to face up to his own moral imperatives.
Zachary M. Andrews tackles the difficult role of Eugene, capturing the youth's brooding uneasiness; however, the otherworldly, poetic qualities that should be Eugene's saving grace are undermined by a recurring sneer that makes us wonder what Candida finds attractive in him. As a result, the poet's heroic stature is lost, robbing Shaw's subtle conclusion of its irony.
Dramatic forces are augmented by: Stephen R. Kramer's blustering Mr. Burgess, Candida's crass father; Patrick Mann's starry-eyed Lexy Mill, James' devoted young curate; and Robin Wallace's pert Proserpine Garnett, James' adoring secretary.
Director Ed Baierlein exacts crisp dialect work from his cast in this economically-staged three-act gem. Natty costumes by Sallie Diamond amplify the period verisimilitude of Baierlein's set.
Germinal Stage Denver's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Candida" runs through March 2nd. 303-455-7108.