This G.B. Shaw comedy is typically dense with dialogue, but the student actors at St. Edward's manage to keep tensions high
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., Feb. 20, 2015
Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8484. www.stedwards.edu. Through Feb. 22. Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.
To enter St. Edward's University's Mary Moody Northen Theatre for its production of Misalliance is to be a guest in the home of John Tarleton, a shopkeeper who has made his fortune as a purveyor of ladies' underwear. Greeted by yet another gorgeous Ia Ensterä set, the modest performance space becomes a pristine and stately living room in Edwardian England, as bedecked with foliage as it is with comic situations and Shavian social commentary.
Gender roles are chiefly among those topics under scrutiny, and one character helming the discussion is Tarleton's daughter, Hypatia (Aly Jones). Though Hypatia would seem to have everything a young lady might need, both her home life and her love life fill her with ennui. Her engagement to Bentley Summerhays (Trey Stoker) fulfills her only insofar as it quells her mother's desire for her to wed, but she cannot deny her lust for adventure, which bland Bentley would never be able to satisfy. Besides, she complains, everyone talks too much, and she's fed up with sitting politely to the side, waiting for some excitement to fall from the sky.
Ungrateful though she may seem, Hypatia may be right: Misalliance is a wordy play, and watching its characters sip tea and pontificate might eventually take its toll on anyone. That is, until adventure literally drops down from the heavens in the form of an airplane crashing into the Tarletons' greenhouse. Crawling from the wreckage are strapping young pilot Joey Percival (Alec Cudmore) and Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska (Maureen Fenninger), both of whom stir up some action in this stuffy home.
Jones plays Hypatia with vivacity and charm; it's easy to believe that this sparkplug would be utterly bored by the other characters inhabiting her world. David Stahl as her father is, as usual, a delight in his role, comically portraying the newly wealthy know-it-all. As his son, Johnny, Ryan Mattingly delivers a polished and even performance. Stoker as the banal fiancé also has his share of well-played comic moments, particularly in the show's latter half. Fenninger commands attention as the Polish thrill seeker, a mouthpiece for the feminist ideals Hypatia may not yet be able to articulate. Fenninger adeptly handles her lengthy, powerful speeches, all while maintaining a consistent accent.
Director Robert Tolaro has assembled a fine cast and utilizes the space quite well. One clever decision was to have the maid and butler read the character description to introduce each new character as they posed in a spotlight, creating a vibe reminiscent of a murder mystery party. Misalliance tackles a number of heavy issues: gender roles, class, familial relationships, and propriety among them. Perhaps the first half of MMNT's production lags in comparison to the second, but that seems to be a byproduct of Shaw's writing rather than any fault of the actors. Plus, there's a dangerous visitor wielding a gun in the second half, which tends to speed things up a bit. Overall, in a play with dense dialogue and loquacious characters, these young performers manage to keep tensions high.