Friday, July 31, 2015

YOU NEVER CAN TELL misses the mark at Shaw

"Don't fall in love:  be your own, not mine or anyone else's."  (G. B. Shaw)

George Bernard Shaw once described his play, “You Never Can Tell,” as “a pleasant play about love as ecstasy and as terror.”   Valentine, a desperate for affection dentist, states in one of his speeches that he is in a “duel of sex,” which contains, “urgent questions about the unequal power of men and women as lovers and as parents.” 

Whatever, the 1897 four-act play is a comedic farce which, like many Shavian writings, deals with such issues as women’s rights, the British education and political systems.  It is filled with stimulating thoughts and there is natural humor in the writing.

Inspired by Madame Sarah Grand’s novel, “The Heavenly Twins,” the play finds the participants at a seaside town in August, 1896.  Mrs. Clandon and her three grown children have just returned to England after an extended stay in Madeira. 

The undisciplined and creative twins, Dolly and Phillip, who have no idea of who their father is, meet him by chance and invite him to a family lunch.  To add to the potential confusion, Valentine, a dentist with a meager practice, has fallen in love with Gloria who has come to his office.  Gloria, a modern woman, has no intention of accepting his love-sick advances, let alone marrying any man. 

Ah, yes, this is a Shavian comedy of errors with strong farcical overtones, which means mistaken identities, wisdom dispensed with the titular phrase, “You never can tell,” and an overly obvious plot line.

The Shaw production, under the direction of Jim Mezon, flails mightily. 

Mezon states, “to me this play is about acceptance. All of his [Shaw’s] characters must learn to accept what they neither sympathize with nor understand.”  He thus, appears to think that the people are real and the message is real.  Therefore, it is confusing that he built the play into a bizarre series of shticks, overblown people and overdone sets.

Rather than allow the comic elements of the play to emerge naturally, he turned to extended absurdity.  Farce is difficult to perform.  It requires direction that takes the ridiculousness of the writing and plot, and works with the actors to play their parts with great honesty.  This is not the tack of Mezon’s performers, many of whom overdo their personas to the extreme.

Peter Millard as William, the waiter, our narrator and spreader of Shaw’s philosophical views, is spot on in his portrayal.  He states his lines, draws attention to what he is saying, and gains his share of natural laughs. 

Julia Course overdoes her haughtiness as Gloria with excessive facial mugging and stiff body, but comes close to reality in her oral presentation. Gray Powell is likeable as the dentist with designs on Gloria.  Tara Rosling is right as Mrs. Clandon, the mother who left her marriage to become an independent woman.

The twins, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as  Philip, and Jennifer Dzialoszynski as Dolly, are so far out that they lose touch with reality.  As Phillip, Jackman-Torkoff overly minces and preens.  Dzialoszynski screeches and overacts. They become caricatures to be laughed at, rather than characters to be laughed with.  The same may be said for Jeff Meadows as an overplayed Bohun (in bad makeup) and Patrick McManus excessively mugs as Crampton.

Even the overdone settings and oft-garish costumes draw distracting attention.

Capsule judgement: “You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.

What: ”You Never Can Tell”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Theatre
When:   April 26 to October 25, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or