Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Shaw's "When We Are Married," is an audience pleasing farce

John Boynton Priestley is a master of writing audience pleasing overblown farce, with underlying political messages.  He is also noted for his “time-slip” writing style that allows him to link past, present and future in interesting ways without following a time order sequence.  This time usage is clearly shown in “When We Are Married.”

The story centers on three couples who were married on the same day, twenty-five years ago.  It is now September, 1908 and they gather to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries.  As the evening proceeds, through a series of bizzare experiences, they find that since the young vicar who presided over their ceremonies was not authorized to perform marriages, they are, in fact, not married.  Of course, these uptight, very Brit Brits, are hysterical since they have been “living in sin.”  What to do? 

 This is a chance to reevaluate their commitments.  Each couple examines what the consequences would be of their not being married.  Throw in an inebriated cook, a drunk photographer, a noisy reporter, an ADD afflicted housekeeper, and the result is a hysterically funny theatrical experience.

Besides the fun, the play has serious undertones.  Such topics as the aloofness of the British upper class, the self-absorption of these people which is assumed without considering those who they exploit, and the reluctance of the aristocracy to change, all get their due from Priestly.

To fully understand these attitudes it must be noted that the writer is known for his strong left-wing beliefs, which brought him into conflict with the British government.  He is credited with influencing Britain’s march toward becoming a Welfare State. 

Each member of the cast carries out their assignment with the right level of farcical underplay, while retaining the needed realism. 

Jennifer Dzialoszynski, as Ruby, the maid, darts around the stage like the comic book character “The Road Runner,” causing chaos.  Mary Haney delights as Mrs. Northrop, the drunken cook.  

Peter Krantz , as photographer Henry Ormonroyd, quickly established himself as an audience favorite with his inebriated actions.  Each member of the “married” couples, Claire Jullien and Thom Marriott as the Helliwells, Patrick Galligan and Kate Hennig as the Soppitts, and Patrick McManus and Catherine McGregor, as the Parkers, establish clear characterizations, enhancing the farcical style.

Capsule judgement: The Shaw’s “When We Are Married” is a total delight. The laughs run throughout.  The farce is extremely well-keyed by Director Joseph Ziegler. The comic timing is excellent, the exaggerations done to the point of ridiculousness without going overboard.  This is a perfect example of what British farce is all about and how it should be done.