ARDEN OPENS SEASON WITH CANDIDA
By Melody Tash
The Arden Theater Company opened its 2000-2001 season this past Tuesday with George Bernard Shaw’s verbose, witty play, Candida. The story of a vivacious woman who is forced to choose between her clergyman husband and the bright young poet who is madly in love with her, Candida explores the struggle between propriety and passion.
Directed by Terrence J. Nolan, the Arden’s production is seamless. Performed on a thrust stage, the audience is allowed into the characters’ world on an almost voyeuristic level; these are not actors on a stage, but rather occupants of a British home with invisible walls. While the staging requires the actors to spend much time with their backs facing the audience, their energy is never lost. Nolan’s directing captures the realism of Shaw’s play without flaunting it.
The daring young poet, Burgress (Charles Antalosky), is boldly naive. Yet as the play unfolds, it is in fact his competition, Reverend James Morell (Paul Nolan), who has even more to learn. As the Reverend Morell, Paul Nolan struggles with Shaw’s quick dialogue at times, rushing through his speeches at breakneck speed. While this detracts from his power, at the same time it oddly reveals the clergyman’s inner self-doubt.
Grace Gonglewski plays the title character with a knowing sense of power. As Candida, she delights in teasing her admirers such that one cannot help but smile. The raw comedy of Shaw’s play, however, is found in the characters of Marchbanks (Sam Henderson) and Prosperina (Holly Twyford). Sam Henderson plays Candida’s father with a soft grouchiness that is augmented by Holly Twyford’s wonderfully prudish wit. It is Twyford’s bustling portrayal of the clergyman’s old-maid typist that truly captures the humor of Shaw’s dialogue.
Tony Cisek’s scenic design magnificently captures the world of these characters. Highlighting the struggle between order and freedom, Cisek has created a proper British study, complete with immense bookcases, oriental rugs, comfortable armchairs and a fireplace.
At the same time, the room lacks the order expected in a clergyman’s home. The books are shelved haphazardly, the characters casually toss articles of clothing on the furniture and papers are strewn across a large desk. Costumes, designed by Margee McCarty, are simplistically elegant. As of final dress, Dan Covey’s lighting design lacked definition. For example, the placement of windows or concept of time in this world without walls was unclear at times. However, with a week of previews remaining, these problems surely will be resolved.
Overall, the Arden’s production of Candida is sharp, thoughtful and funny.
CANDIDA runs Sep. 26-Oct. 22 at the Arden Theater Company’s F. Otto Haas Stage. 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA. (215) 922-1122.