Misalliance - The actors have all responded with a unity of playfulness and of common purpose Read More
'Misalliance'|a CurtainUp New Jersey theater review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

I went into the Turkish bath a boy and I came out a man — — A Young Man
Ames Adamson (Photo: Jerry Talia)
The capacity opening night audience at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey responded with well deserved enthusiasm to George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance.Although my own experience with this brilliantly witty farcical comedy includes a memory of a very fine Roundabout Theater production in the early 1980s, I know that I wasn't quite prepared to laugh so unashamedly aloud as I did watching this first-rate company go through their humorously executed pretentions and paces under the direction of STNJ's Artistic Associate Stephen Brown-Fried. Brown-Fried, who recently earned plaudits as the director of the National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) production of Clifford Odet's Awake and Sing, has both cornered and captured the rascally heart of this irrevocably clever play.

Though not as popular or oft revived as his Pygmalion or Major Barbara , Misalliance , nevertheless, is populated with Shaw's most paradoxical characters. Their ideas about everything under the sun and their motives insure a physical as well as a verbal workout. There are, however, sporadic lags during the course of almost three hours spent in their company. This is especially true when the talky-testy characters appear to be enjoying the sound of their speechifying to the point of losing their point.

But you will enjoy watching them exercise their rebellious instincts and obstinate natures in the light of the family patriarch, underwear tycoon John Tarleton. And what a blinding light he is, as played by a hilariously bellicose Ames Adamson. His comedic posturing is in full support of the youthful image that he admits he can no longer see in the mirror. A bit paunchy in his spiffy three-piece suit, his stylish mustache, bright blue eyes and ruddy complexion, John continues to see himself as a romantic adventurer but primarily as "a man of ideas.” His ideas, both foolish and formidable, are spewed willy-nilly to all who would listen and even to those who would prefer not to, in and around the confines of the solarium in his country home in Surrey, England.

But John is only one of nine characters — immediate family members, suitors and guests, those invited, those invasive, and two who just drop in from the sky. . . literally. They are all a lively, self-serving bunch who reflect Shaw's views on capitalism, socialism, feminism, the haves and have-nots, parenting, rebellious children, marriage and romantic dalliances.

To Shaw's credit, these characters reveal themselves as delightfully real and robust, with John's pretty daughter Hypatia the most provocative. This "glorious young beast" is played by a disarming Katie Fabel, who flagrantly flirts with Joey Percival (a vitality-driven performance by Robbie Simpson), the handsome pilot suddenly plummeted into their midst. The flirtation is unhindered by Bentley Summerhays to whom she is betrothed, but who also turns out to be Joey's best friend. A flitting about, limp-wristed Sherbach is a comedic match for Adamson as a contrasting image of the male species.

While the plot is hardly worth detailing, some themes comes to the fore such as the importance of family values, the constraints of the British class system, and morality of the May-December romance between Hypatia and Bentley's father Lord Summerhays (a composed and stately performance by Jonathan Gillard Daly). This being Shaw we are showered by words and more words, epigrams and bon mots as the characters debate, denounce, deride and romance each other, but also discover who they are and what they really want before falling into a misalliance.

Considerable credit is due Mr. Brown-Fried for his fearless, free-wheeling approach to a play that could easily drown in its own polemics. The actors have all responded with a unity of playfulness and of common purpose. Of the more demonstrative there is the tall and limber Caralyn Kozlowski as the admonishing, barn-storming aviator cum acrobat, most notable for her prowess as a seductress. Also bravo to a terrific Matt Kleckner as the out-for-blood home-invading (hiding in a portable Turkish bath), pistol-wielding radical. His lengthy rage and revenge-fueled diatribe that devolves into a whimpering, whiskey-induced, remorseful confessional is a highlight.

We feel just a bit of remorse for the wisely persevering Mrs. Tarleton (a warm and winning performance by Erika Rolfsrud) who stands by her man. More inclined toward respectability and normalcy in the midst of all the windy pontificating is Hypatia's brother Johnny who, as played with an effortless sense of superiority by Brian Cade, intentionally points the way to his sister's closing line of the play: "I suppose there is nothing more to be said.”

Well, yes there is: Set designer Brian Clinnin's glass-enclosed solarium with its wicker furnishings and the center island of plants are a lovely sight as is the outside view of hydrangea bushes. The Edwardian costumes designed by Tilly Grimes, in particularly Hypatia's peach and pink lace embroidered dress, are another visual treat. However, there is no retreat from the treat of the words that ultimately dominate, prevail, and define Misalliance

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw Directed by Stephen Brown-Fried

Cast: Brian Cade (Johnny Tarleton), Matthew Sherbach (Bentley Summerhays), Katie Fabel (Hypatia Tarleton), Erika Rolfsrud (Mrs. Tarleton), Jonathan Gillard Daly (Lord Summerhays), Ames Adamson (John Tarleton), Robbie Simpson (Joey Percival), Caralyn Kozlowski (Lina Szczepanowska), Matt Kleckner (A Young Man)
Scenic Designer: Brian Clinnin
Lighting Designer: Andrew Hungerford
Costume Designer: Tilly Grimes
Sound Designer: Toby Algya
Production Stage Manager: Denise Cardarelli
Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) Madison, NJ
(973) 377 - 408 - 5600 or www.ShakespeareNJ.org
Tickets: ($32.00 to $62.00)
Performances: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.
From 08/05/15 Opened 08/08/15 Ends 08/30/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/08/15
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