Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Man and Some Women

A MAN AND SOME WOMEN, a liberating experience at The Shaw

At the turn of twentieth century, England was operating on Victorian principles, with the debate on women’s roles in society was becoming a trigger issue. With the publication of Olive Schreiner’s Woman and Labour, which became the “Bible of the Women’s Movement”, such issues as suffrage, women’s education, marriage, motherhood and women’s employment came further to the fore.

It is entirely appropriate that the Shaw Festival produce Githa Sowerby’s A MAN AND SOME WOMEN. The script carries forward a Shavian message of the liberated woman’s role in society.

The play centers on Richard Shannon (“the man” in the title) and his relationship with his wife, sisters and cousin (the, “and some women”). As had been the custom in England, “the man” was defined by obligation and financial requirement to provide for “his women.”

We watch as Hilda, Shannon’s controlling wife, his manipulative and gossipy spinster sister Rose, and his more gracious sister, Elizabeth, each feed off his feelings of obligation to play the required role, at the expense of his desires and interests. It is only his cousin, Jessica, who, as an independent woman, allows her love for Richard to encourage his becoming an emotionally fulfilled man.

Sowerby’s concise, well written script has a precise message. Alisa Palmer’s razor clean directing develops the author’s intentions. The cast is universally excellent. Leslie Frankish’s sets are era and attitude correct. (Stick around at intermission to see the destruction and reconstruction of settings.) The costumes help delineate the characters and their attitudes. The overall result is an enveloping experience.

Kate Henning is correctly beastly as the frustrated shrewish Rose. It is a wonder that the audience didn’t boo her at the curtain call. Hers is a fierce and powerful performance.

Sharry Flett is properly tender and understanding as Elizabeth, the sister who, when faced with the necessity to take care of herself, is willing to step forward.

Jenny L. Wright weaves Richard’s wife, Hilda, into a boorish, controlling woman, only out for herself. She brought appropriate disdain to the character.

Marla McLean creates in Jessica a compassion that allows for a glimpse into what an independent woman should be in the era to come. This is a fine portrayal.

Graeme Somerville inhabits the role of Richard. It is a joy to watch both his body language and voice mature as he grows from emasculated to independent man.

Though sometimes a little hard to hear, Jordan Hillier does a nice job of making meaningful sense of his lines as Jack, Richard’s young ward.

Capsule judgement: A MAN AND SOME WOMEN is a well-written, meaningful script, which gets an excellent production at The Shaw. It is a wonderful examination of the changing role of women.