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Misalliance

For some reason, we often think of George Bernard Shaw as a very serious fellow, although his plays are mostly comedies and his forte was definitely satire. Yes, he had his social commentary, but Misalliance, one of his less-traveled plays, is a wacky romp, a comedy of manners (including bad manners), with the social comment tucked away in well-dusted corners of the drawing room.

Rosalind Productions’ mounting of Misalliance at the Odyssey is clockwork-precise, strongly acted, and gets its share of laughs. It is a bit long and talky-but that’s Shaw for you. At least the talk is superbly articulate, literate, full of Shavian quips like “It’s not bad language-it’s socialism!” and “I would like to be an active verb.” No current frat-boy movie comedy is going to deliver this kind of wit.

In the first act, we meet six characters from two wealthy families who are allegedly soon to be united by marriage. Hypatia (vivacious Abigail Rose Solomon) is engaged to undersized, tantrum-throwing Bentley Summerhays (Orestes Arcuni). She explains to her understanding, protective mother (Maggie Peach) that she doesn’t love Bentley, but love is a detriment to married happiness. Actually, Hypatia is banking on the chance that an “adventure” might happen to her. One of Shaw’s “modern” women of the new (20th century), she is high-spirited, resents the coddling that young women have had to endure under Victorianism, and hopes that something more exciting will drop out of the sky.

Hypatia has briefly flirted with Bentley’s British-colonial, old-money-rich father (Armin Shimmerman) and it’s a secret they’re trying to keep. Hypatia’s own father (Greg Mullavey) is a self-made, up-from-poverty businessman who gives money to free libraries and constantly suggests reading matter to everyone else. Rounding out this silly group of upper-class twits and arrivistes is Johnny Jr. (Christopher Franciosa), a gangly, lazy, pain-in-everyone’s ass.

The hoped-for miracle comes at the end of Act One and in Act Two, the pace picks up with the introduction of three new characters, two of whom have indeed dropped out of the sky-their proto-aeroplane (it’s 1909) crashes into the greenhouse. Joey Percival (Nick Mennell) is the pilot, a friend of Bentley’s and a good-looking fellow for whom Hypatia immediately sets her cap. His flying companion, Lina Szczepanowska (Molly Schaffer), is a Polish acrobat and a really modern woman who wears pants and boots and does just what she wants. Somehow, she gets the blood stirring in almost all of the male characters. Oh yes, there’s one more person, Julius Baker (David Clayberg), a weird gun-toting fanatic seeking revenge on Hypatia’s father.

Essentially, not that much happens in this play. Characters flirt and propose and come to realizations and argue comically and come to more realizations. There is a happy resolution for most of the characters and in the meantime, the audience has been entertained by constant wit and good-natured ruminations on human nature.

Elina de Santos has directed Misalliance with an emphasis on excellent timing. Nothing feels as if a group of people are sitting or standing around and talking, although that is actually all that they do. Stephen Gifford’s stage set of a classy sitting room is detail perfect, although modern American audiences will wonder why the sitting room contains a Turkish bath module (it does make a great hiding place).

In a cast of nine, most of whom are Americans doing British accents, the acting is consistently good, but a couple of standouts must be mentioned. Greg Mullavey, still best-known for his stint on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, does a wonderful turn as John Tarleton (Hypatia’s dad). He’s funny and a blowhard without being too much of a blowhard-he even models his accent after the North Country overtones of Maggie Peach as his wife. Peach is also excellent as the somewhat naïve but ultimately wise wife. Molly Schaffer is a scene-stealer as Lina-she does the acrobatics and lights up the stage at all times. David Clayberg is the biggest surprise as the vengeful gun-man-he is the character who Shaw has chosen to articulate his own social views. Clayberg delivers a multi-layered performance as a man who is only half aware of his motives.

All in all, Misalliance is a jolly good evening of fun.
Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Elina de Santos.

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Theater: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., LA
Web Site: http://www.odysseytheatre.com/
Tickets: 310.477.2055 - $25
Dates: through April 26, 2009, Thursday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm