ShawChicago’s Misalliance Is A Hit

misalliance0001Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance is a comedic discussion and debate about many of society’s misalliances, but especially the misalliance between parents and children. Shaw believed children would be better off not knowing the identity of their parents, a belief probably fueled by Shaw’s own uncertainty of his own father’s identity.

Hypatia Tarleton (Allison Cook) is the “properly” brought up daughter of the wealthy, yet philanthropic, women’s underwear manufacturer, John Tarleton (Jack Hickey) and his traditional wife Mrs. Tarleton (Kate Young). Bored, listless, and useless,  Hypatia seeks to break free of her parents’ world. She has engaged herself to the namby-pamby nitwit Bentley “Bunny” Sommerhays (Matthew Gall). He is the aristocratic son of former Colonial Governor Lord Sommerhays (Richard Henzel).  In distinct contrast to Hypatia, her brother, John Tarleton Junior (Patrick Lane) is a solid, common-sense, down-to-earth young businessman, of course, out of place in a family of malcontents.

Into the debate arrive a series of outsiders. An airplane crashes down, piloted by Bentley’s old school chum Joey Percival (Jesse Dornan), a man who claims to have had three fathers, accompanied by the famous Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska (Michelle Shupe). Bursting out of the portable Turkish bath comes Gunner (Gary Alexander), a clerk on a desperate suicide mission to determine the identity of his father.

In time, Hypatia dumps Bentley and pursues Joey until he proposes marriage, and all the other men proposition Lina. The last suitor, Johnny Junior, is rejected because he offers her merely a stable traditional marriage with all the trimmings. Instead, the “unwomanly” Lina chooses to run off with the “unmanly” Bunny.

Director Barbara Zahora, an actress in many ShawChicago productions under the direction of Robert Scogin, has clearly learned her Shavian lessons well from the master director. Her staging of Misalliance is superbly cast, clear, engaging, and full of surprises.

The cast features ShawChicago veterans and a couple of impressive debuts. Allison Cooke debuted in the cameo role of Dolly Clandon in You Never Can Tell. Now she fully blossoms into an imposing and engaging actress of the first rank in one of Shaw’s most difficult female roles. Matthew Gall likewise shines as Bentley, displaying heretofore unseen reservoirs of passion and ingenuity. Jack Hickey again brings the businessman father to life with the role of Tarleton, this time finely juggling the character’s high-minded altruism with his horn dog lust. Kate Young, so captivating as The Widow in Geneva, is almost unrecognizable as Mrs. Tarleton. Her left hand eloquently keeps her effusive husband in check with wonderfully clever gestures. Gary Alexander, usually cast as one of the many Shaw oddballs, this time shows his serious side, assaying the autobiographical character with depth, nuance and conviction. Jesse Dornan, the eloquent lawyer in You Never Can Tell, this time shows his vulnerability as Joey Percival. Richard Henzel, new to me,offers a portrayal of Lord Sommersby so impressive that I regret not having been in Chicago sooner to catch his previous performances with the company.

Two debuts are significant.

Patrick Lane has the lack luster task of upholding normalcy and sanity in the Shaw play. He does it with style, grace, and power. He reminds one of a young Mel Gibson. Michelle Shupe plays the “modern” woman with power, humor, and great presence. She reminds one of a young Greta Garbo. The two newcomers make the cast for Misalliance the most uniformly strong one I have seen at the Ruth Page Theater.

With Misalliance, a play mixing elements of Euripides’ The Bacchae and Ionesco into the standard Shavian soup, Shaw Chicago continues its tradition of providing some of the finest classical theater available to the city.

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