By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
The audience is dazzled by the wit and wisdom of George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance,” now in a season-opening production at South Coast Repertory.
This is one of the great Shaw’s “plays of ideas.”
It was written in 1910, and what it has to say is still relevant today. Its over-riding theme, though, comes down to the age-old issue: children struggling to free themselves from parents and gain independence.
Anchoring this production is Dakin Matthew’s formidable performance as John Tarleton. The character is a successful manufacturer, self-educated and newly rich.
His is a “rags to riches” story. A deep thinker and avid reader, his intelligence sets him apart from his upper class friends. He loves to pontificate, but his wife (sympathetically played by Amelia White) knows how to tamp him down.
The family has planned for daughter Hypatia to marry into a wealth. Hypatia, though, is strong-willed and not easily manipulated. Perfectly played by Melanie Lora, she is bored to death. As she puts it: “Talk, Talk, talk, that’s my life.” She wants to break out and find adventure.
All action takes place in the atrium off the front room of Tarleton’s posh home The play opens with a visit from fiancé, Bentley (a bratty fop, very funny in the hands of Wyatt Fenner).
As Hypatia’s mother aptly describes him: “He’s over-bred. He’s like one of those expensive little dogs.’’ We can readily see why Hypatia balks at a life with him. Moreover, Bentley’s father, Lord Summerhays (effectively rendered by SCR veteran, Richard Doyle), who once had a flirtation with Hypatia, shakes his head at his son’s ineptitude.
Hypatia gets her chance for freedom when a plane crashes on the grounds. Emerging from the wreck is the dashing pilot, Joseph (a self-assured and arrogant playboy as portrayed by Peter Katona). His passenger is the beautiful, assertive, Liza Szcepanowska (Kirsten Thomas, who furnishes her with a thick Polish accent). It turns out she is a death-defying acrobat and a take-charge person who soon has all the men in tow.
An excited Hypatia immediately sets her sights on the handsome interloper. Liza, in turn, takes care of Bentley, throwing him over her shoulder and taking him out of the room after one of hies “snits.” It’s not long before he is whipped in shape.
Stealing the second act is J.D. Cullum, as the crazed Julius Baker. He is a self-professed Socialist who sneaks into the house with the intent of killing Tarleton for wrongs done his late mother. He rants and raves, hilariously, about his deprived life but ends up a “teddy bear” in Mrs. Tarleton’s hand.
Overall, the greatness of Shaw’s writing stands out. Much of the dialogue emerges as epigrams that still resonate: “Democracy reads well but it doesn’t act well,” and, “The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else” are two pithy examples.
Director Martin Benson, who helmed several of Shaw’s plays in the past at SCR, nails this one as well. Likewise, Ralph Funicello’s opulent set vividly recreates the Victorian era with its wealth of art, nicknacks and furnishings.
“Misalliance” can be seen in Costa Mesa through Oct. 10.