Friday, October 21, 2022


Last night, I saw Bernard Shaw's play Candida, which is currently playing in a delightful new production on Theatre Row.

First published in 1898, Candida tells the story of a remarkable woman (the title character) beloved by two different men, her clergyman husband and an eccentric young poet (based in part on Percy Shelley).

The play did not become a hit until 1903, when Arnold Daly produced it in New York, starring as the poet, Eugene Marchbanks. Though Marchbanks is the wealthy nephew of an Earl, the Reverend James Morell finds him sleeping on a park bench, and the two become friends.

A love triangle that develops after Marchbanks meets Candida Morell is what drives the plot. Instead of going for romantic intrigues, however, Shaw has the three characters ultimately discuss their predicament in a comical and delightful manner, questioning Victorian assumptions about marriage and gender roles.

David Staller has reset this production in the 1920s, and moved it to uptown Manhattan in the increasingly vibrant neighborhood of Harlem. Shaw's minister is a Christian socialist, and this seems to fit in with the new setting, a Harlem Renaissance where radical and substantive issues were being hotly debated by celebrity intellectuals of the day.

R.J. Foster plays Rev. Morell with a boundless energy that makes us understand immediately why he is constantly being invited for speaking engagements. Avery Whitted, by contrast, plays Marchbanks with a shy innocence that makes him appear as if he could never be a threat to the charismatic preacher. As Candida, however, Avanthika Srinivasan divides her attention quite evenly between the two men, making the audience unsure of which one she will choose.

The supporting cast is delightful as well. David Ryan Smith, who was hilarious last year in Merry Wives, plays Candida's father, the wealthy businessman Mr. Burgess. In the original script, Burgess speaks with a Cockney accent, but Smith instead gives him a delightful Southern twang. As Morell's secretary Proserpine Garnet, Amber Reauchean Williams brings a primness to the role that makes it all the more delightful when Prossy gets drunk with the junior clergyman Lexy Mills, played impishly by Peter Romano. (Romano was also in the 2017 Off-Broadway revival of Fucking A.)

A set design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori helps to bring the whole production together, providing a wealth of bric-a-brac that perfectly sets the mood for everything that follows. Christian imagery abounds, but the liberal Rev. Morell has also found space for a Buddha, an Ankh, and a Menorah. A radio and a phonograph are used multiple times to bring music into the world of the play, much to the delight of the audience.

Gingold Theatrical Group, which produced this lovely revival, is also coordinating a companion event next month, bringing in a number of people to discuss the play and how it relates to Shaw's world and our own. I'll be there, and it would be great to see you there, too!