Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Palm Beach Dramaworks: Candida (4 reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks opened its production of George Bernard Shaw's Candida on October 8, 2010.
In this brilliantly witty exploration of marriage by the Nobel Prize winning playwright, a beautiful Victorian woman finds herself caught in a romantic triangle between her pastor husband and a young poet.
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that included Kim Cozort, John Leonard Thompson, Will Connolly, John Felix, Cliff Burgess and Margery Lowe

Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Shaw's plays have a particular verbal crackle, inspired by the playwright's love of the Marxist dialectic. Even ideas with which Shaw did not personally identify were granted an eloquence and patina of conviction that their partisans could rarely match. And at Palm Beach Dramaworks, J. Barry Lewis' fast, smart direction lends Shaw's words a bracing, liquid fluency.
To watch a good production of Candida — and this is a very good production — is to witness the graceful untangling and articulation of a sticky web of relationships. Candida's best scene features neither Candida nor Morell; it is between Marchbanks and Ms. Garnett, the secretary, who is both an old maid and a stick-in-the-mud...  actress Lowe works a potent magic with her face, which so far has been held in a rigid grimace, as though she were born with a lemon for a tongue. As Marchbanks waxes and Ms. Garnett sputters, new and heretofore unexpected emotions flicker across that face — flinty little expressions of fear, tiny and abortive articulations of hope, and most of all a horror that her persona is about to collapse, revealing the howling chasm of loneliness at her core. In these three or four minutes, Lowe almost walks away with the show.
If she doesn't, it's only because its actors give us so much so quickly. ...the reverend, played by Thompson with fierce intelligence and big-heartedness, admits to a frailty he sees only dimly. His strength is the strength given him by others, bolstered by love and good faith. Connolly's Marchbanks — shifty, ill-at-ease both in his own skin and in the world he inhabits — knows none of these comforts and scorns them; he sees Thompson's borrowed strength as weakness, identical to his own, but less honest and therefore less worthy.
...Candida, whom Kim Cozort plays as an Athenian goddess: powerful beyond the ken of mortals or men, holding their worldly fates in her hands as surely as she once incubated them in her womb. She is inscrutable and transcendent.
Hap Erstein reviewed for The Palm Beach Post:
Just as rare as works by Eugene O’Neill or Henrik Ibsen in South Florida are professional productions of the plays of George Bernard Shaw. Yet serious-minded Palm Beach Dramaworks has now presented all three of these towering writers in as many seasons, including an assured and winning mounting of Shaw’s Candida...
Like Nora in A Doll’s House, Candida simmers for much of the evening, but comes on strong when implored to make her choice of mates, as Cozort demonstrates with a wily twinkle and sly grace.
Thompson returns to Dramaworks, wholly different than he was in last season’s American Buffalo, though just as clueless as the self-described "moralist and windbag" Morel... he is very assured, with crisp intonations and exaggerated hand gestures, as if he were rehearsing that week’s sermon.
Director J. Barry Lewis has a genuine find in Connolly, a recent Yale Drama graduate who manages the trick of making Marchbanks look inept, yet not inane. John Felix lends solid support as Candida’s well-heeled father, perhaps an early prototype for Pygmalion‘s Alfie Doolittle.
While most Shaw plays are better off read than encountered in performance, Candida is an exception, as Lewis and his efficient, entertaining production show.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
This version of Candida sadly falls short of the mark. Sadly, because Dramaworks deserves to be commended for taking on a Shaw work. Too few theaters are brave enough to program classic plays, especially Shaw’s polemical works, which frequently are debates about social 
The principal problem is that two of the three central roles are miscast. Kim Cozort as the wife, Candida, comes across a artificial and arch, instead of playful, charming and wise.

John Leonard Thompson as her husband, Morell, assuredly could pass for a clergyman, but not the athletic, charismatic man who, according to the script, has droves of women hanging on his every word.
Will Connolly as the poet Marchbanks... is a far more compelling player. He and the show’s supporting cast give this show what life it has.

John Felix brightens the stage... Margery Lowe, uncharacteristically dowdy as Morell’s prim secretary Prosperine, scores laughs opposite Connolly and Cliff Burgess...

A Shaw play certainly is worth seeing, if only for his barbed wit, which this J. Barry Lewis-steered production preserves to a certain extent. But the urgency that would make Candida still topical and absorbing is lacking in this well-meaning production.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:’s Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of Shaw’s delicious but dizzyingly dense comic treatise on love and marriage, Candida.
Under J. Barry Lewis’ direction, a cadre of talented actors spent Saturday night pitching concepts and witticisms with so much topspin that the show resembled that truckload of Superballs dropped from David Letterman’s roof.

That’s both Candida’s strength and weakness: Shaw unleashes such an abundant torrent of ideas and epigrams that it becomes virtually impossible to keep up.
The cast deftly handles Shaw’s biting exchanges that joyfully upend conventionality.
The good news here is Cozort...  She retakes center stage as a classic Shavian heroine... Her Candida exudes self-confidence with an ease as natural as respiration while uttering pronouncements that shocked turn of the century audiences and still rattle a few today.
Thompson stunned audiences last season as the venal and feral Teach in Dramaworks’ American Buffalo. He is nearly unrecognizable, but totally convincing as the paternalistic, dependable “good” man who is more dependent on his wife than he realizes.
It’s Connolly–rail thin with untamed hair and a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights look– whose performance will divide audiences as either too breathless and overwrought to be credible, or a painfully accurate portrait of an immature naïf whose timeless foolishness can be seen in Renaissance paintings and the closest shopping mall. We favor the latter.
It’s almost becoming unnecessary to say that Michael Amico’s set for Dramaworks is a finely observed environment bedecked with just the right furniture, props and accessories.
Candida plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through November 21, 2010.

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