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You Never Can Tell (A Noise Within)



 
G.B. Shaw was a polemicist, which makes some of his work not only dated, but dull. However, he was gifted with a comic take on the world, so when a professional company on the level of Pasadena’s A Noise Within produces one of his seldom-mounted comedies, such as “You Never Can Tell,” a meshing of a period comedy-of-manners with a social realism tract, you have to just relax and enjoy the goings-on.

Written in 1896, Shaw made sure his characters, especially the women, knew they were 20th Century creatures, feisty, independent of men, and eager to play with the world. That’s probably the extent of Shaw’s politics in the play, although he certainly did plug his belief in democratic socialism (has anything changed in today’s political world?!).

Set in a quaint seaside town, Mrs. Clandon (Deborah Strang) and her brood of grown-up and growing-up chicks, Gloria (Jill Remmer), 20 or so, and the twins, Dolly (Erika Soto) and Philip (Richy Storrs), perhaps 18, have returned to England after eighteen years away in Madeira, an island in the North Atlantic owned at that time by Portugal.

Mrs. Clandon shed her husband, choosing to raise their offspring there by herself (no mention of where her money came from).  But now they’re in England, somewhat at sea, when at this lovely resort, they find romance (at least Gloria does with poor-but-honest dentist, Dr. Valentine (Kasey Mahaffy)). And Dolly keeps pitiable Mr. McComas (Jeremy Rabb), the family’s English solicitor, a-thither with her foolish flirting.

But as their mother has never divulged the name of their father , and  has, indeed, changed their last name,  when the twins, beastly Bright Young Things, they haven’t a clue that Dr. V’s landlord, Mr. Crampton (an absolutely delightful Apollo Dukakis), is their papa.

This important fact is quickly divulged to us sitting there enjoying Shaw’s plotting, and when at a sit-down lunch, Mrs. Clandon meets her long-estranged (divorced? no mention of that!) husband, all chaos breaks out.

Romance is always there, however, and the mostly-irritating antics of the twins doesn’t detract from it. But Shaw was not a sentimentalist and the wisdom which comes from the mouths of the older maitre’d (the impeccable Wesley Mann, channeling Alfred Doolittle) and his (also estranged) son, the Queen’s Counsel (Freddy Douglas), make it clear that Shaw believed that women and men can certainly have love, but not at the expense of dignity.

Director Stephanie Shroyer has a firm hand on the festivities, keeping the polemics down from a shout and the merriment up to within farcical levels.

The attractive set-design of Don Llewellyn is rather subdued (budget constraints?) but, as usual, the costumes of Angela Balogh Calin shine. The cast are all up to the demands, including Strang making what she can of the under-written Mrs. Clandon. But watching the older men make the most of what is presented to them is an utter delight.

ANW, lately, has had a great run of the comedies over their dramas. Who knows why?  But we may be grateful for this as it takes the solid professionalism and scholarliness of the producers, staff and the creative team, to make themselves shine the way they do.

A big ol’ huzzah! for this production!

“You Never Can Tell” plays in repertory through May 15th at A Noise Within Theatre, 3352 Foothill Blvd, Pasadena 91107. Tickets and dates performed at www.anoisewithin.org or at 626.356.3100x1.