The Philanderer at American Players Theatre
Review: The Philanderer by George Bernard Shaw
Shows: June 13-September 19, 2009
Book: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Kenneth Albers
Produced: American Players Theatre
Runs: 120 minutes (with 15 min. intermission)
Contrasted against a rugged outdoor setting, the sumptuous turquoise and red late 19th-century scenery at the American Players Theatre production of The Philanderer prepares the audience for contrasts that George Bernard Shaw invokes in his play. Progressive for the time (it was banned at first by British Censorship in 1893), the story contains themes of feminine vs. masculine, father vs. daughter, love vs. lust,and marriage vs. friendship – all mingling together in a captivating script performed by the APT in their Spring Green home.
It’s a play rich with dialogue that dares the audience to listen to every word. Shaw’s biting comedy resonates even 100 years later. This is deftly conveyed by Kenneth Albers’ direction, especially during the opening minutes when Leonard Charteris (James DeVita) and Grace Tranfield (Colleen Madden) taunt each other during a tango set to original music composed by Joe Cerqua.
The dance steps metaphorically illustrate intricacies of the plot in which Leonard and the widow Grace love one another, but a former dalliance named Julia Craven (Catherine Lynn Davis) remains devoted to him and refuses to give him up. Leonard hopes to marry Grace in order to prevent any further histrionics from Julia, and each of the women’s fathers become involved in this romantic strife. In a deliciously torrid scene, Julia pulls out every feminine emotion in an effort to guilt Leonard into returning to her. Leonard claims, “advanced people are suited by friendship, conventional people by marriage….You refused to marry me because we were advanced people.”
When the characters on stage ask these pointed questions of each other, laughter rang throughout the theater. However, you wonder if the audience is only laughs only at themselves. Do women act as childish as Julia Craven? Are they really known for these actions? Do men learn as Leonard does, that women may not garner both love and respect from any man because of this behavior? Perhaps even more poignantly, the two sets of fathers and daughters revisit how old must a woman be before a father listens with respect to the woman standing before him; he doesn’t question the child or little girl he once doted on.
The APT cast carries these character nuances carefully and gracefully, while costumed in elegant silken gowns, velvet coats and black bow ties. Catherine Lynn Davis, once a regular on the Milwaukee stage, imbues her character with the aforementioned ‘womanly’ emotions and jealousies while still remaining likeable. Madden as Grace is a feminine pillar of restraint, demanding love and respect most admirably. DeVita’s cavalier eloquence gives Leonard a believable sincerity, but you feel like he has left his true motives hidden and the audience wonders if his character will only loves himself – something many contemporary women also ask about their male counterparts.
Supporting members contribute wonderfully to Shaw’s serious intent, including the appearance of Susan Shunk as Sylvia Craven. The play’s dynamics heavily favor the discourse with her character in a philosophical, but also delightfully comic way.
Though the opening night performance appeared a bit tentative with the exception of Davis, this production should meld and mature throughout the summer season into even finer performances.
As contriving as a good number of classic playwrights, Shaw presents more questions than answers in The Philanderer, long after the laughter is silenced. He allows for the idea that inside each human being there resides degrees of masculine and feminine characteristics — with some individuals carrying more of one than the other. By ignoring innate differences, could you invalidate the wonder of both sexes?
As Shaw’s play demonstrates, what men and women may truly crave from each other is a delicate balance of love and respect, whether as a lover or a friend, whatever their gender. As Grace and Julia learn to respect each other, Grace wishes the same from Leonard. But she decides against “marrying a man she loves too much because she will be his power” and believes being an advanced woman, “that no woman is the property of a man, she belongs to herself.”
Perhaps even more convincingly, Shaw states his case for love and respect to be upheld under a variety of circumstances: between lovers and friends, parent and child, patient and doctor. When the tango reprises in the closing scene, the audience assumes the music and steps to this seductive dance play on forever.
American Players Theatre presents The Philanderer by George Bernard Shaw as an Up-the-Hill Play in Spring Green until September 19. For tickets call: 608.588.2361 or visit the Play in the Woods website for more information.
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