Different Stages has fun with Shaw's dissection of the institution of marriage
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Nov. 28, 2008
The Vortex, through Dec. 6
Running time: 2 hr, 30 min
If you're feeling mischievous, take someone who opposes gay marriage to Different Stages' production of Getting Married. Or if you oppose gay marriage, take yourself, and see what kind of reaction you get.
George Bernard Shaw wrote the play in 1908. He was a critic and writer famously ahead of his time, someone fully invested in equal rights for women and class awareness. His work often came as a shock to Edwardian England, and while Getting Married doesn't mention gay marriage, it might as well, given the dismay and astonishment expressed by many of its characters.
Getting Married is less of a play than it is a playground for Shaw's outrageous ideas about the legal relationship between a husband and a wife. The story opens as the parents of Edith Bridgenorth (Nora Davidson) prepare for her wedding. The guests arrive in various states of emotional disarray, the result of divorce, rejected marriage proposals, and extramarital affairs in their own lives. They discover that the bride and bridegroom are, that very morning, having second thoughts.
It isn't that the two don't love each other. Edith and her fiancé, Cecil (Daniel Rigney), gaze at each other with a tender, adoring regret that is sweet to behold. The thing is, they've educated themselves as to the exact legal relationship between a man and a woman once they get married, and now the idea doesn't sound so appealing.
In his play, Shaw surgically removes all sentimentality from the marriage organism and dissects what's left. Is there any benefit to be had, after all? The guests rally around the doubting lovers and decide to create a new contract, one that is like marriage but with an extensive prenup designed to protect all legal and financial interests. Edith's father, Bishop Bridgenorth (Randall Lorenz), surprises the gathering by supporting the effort: "I've a very strong suspicion that when it is drawn up, it will be so much worse than the existing law that you will all prefer getting married."
Different Stages' production does its very best to maintain the witty momentum of Shaw's dialectic. It's perhaps not the fault of the company members that things begin to sag in the final third under the weight of a resolution that takes its own sweet time getting there. Modern audiences, especially in Austin, where many shows are considered long at 90 minutes, aren't geared up to examine a single idea for 2½ hours.
True to style, director Norman Blumensaadt's work is thorough and specific. The cast of 13 performs this intellectual symphony with confidence and careful thought. Their British accents are uneven, but the actors work through this heavy text with gusto. As an ensemble, they clearly have fun together. The fun is catching for an audience that wants to see what happens when you crack open the rib cage of an old social convention to find out what's really there.