Previews: 02/13/09- Close: 03/15/09
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin
The Philanderer is a rarely produced work of George Bernard Shaw’s, and much of the charm of the piece lies in the brilliance of its author. It’s just hard to do Shaw badly. The Philanderer tells the story of Leonard Charteris (played by the enchanting Julian Stetkevych,) a playboy who is carrying on a romantic affair with Grace Tranfield before having properly ended his affair with Julia Craven. Enter two disgruntled fathers, a truly “modern” sister, and a sweet, but misguided suitor, and the twists and turns of sorting out the various lovers ensues with hilarious, and heartbreaking consequences. Sound more like soap opera than Shaw? It is exactly this combination that makes the play so much fun. The Philanderer in many ways plays like a more intelligent 19th Century Gossip Girl.
In fact, Mr. Stetkevych portrays Charteris as a slightly more wholesome Chuck Bass, and it is this interpretation that makes the part. Tatiana Gomberg as his cast off lover Julia Craven wonderfully brings to life Shaw’s descriptions of her character. Julia is in many ways still an impudent, spoiled child who is so used to being petted, and crying to get her way that she has failed to mature into the woman she ought to be. The trouble is that we don’t get to see much underneath, making us actually root for Charteris to get rid of her. Ideally there should be a balance, and shifting of sympathies between Julia and Charteris – something which never quite occurs in this production. The rest of the cast does an excellent job, at once giving us the archetypes we revel in, and the humanity behind them. The standout was Ms. Barrie Kreinik as Julia’s “Ibsonite”, plucky, sister Sylvia Craven. Although she had a smaller role, she played it with aplomb, and transformed the minor character into a Jo Marchesque crusader, blazing through the lives of everyone she encountered. She stole every scene she was in, and is an actress to watch for.
Although The Philanderer is in many ways Gossip Girl entertainment, the indelible Shaw also uses it as a commentary on the ridiculousness, and tragedy of idolizing “modern scientific thought.” Dr. Paramore places so much value in his scientific reasoning that he declares that Mr. Craven has contracted “Paramore disease”, and is on death’s door. In the second act he discovers to his horror that in fact, there is no such disease, and he has made a mistake in his research. All the characters in the play (especially the younger characters: Charteris, Grace, Julia, and Sylvia) are all “Ibsenites” and belong to the Ibsen Club. Charteris uses this Ibsen philosophy, that women and men are equal in every way, to justify why he must be free to sleep with whomever he wishes. While the play obviously disapproves of the stifling gender roles prevalent in 1893, it also warns that the worship of modern reasoning can lead to our downfall as well.
The design elements all came together beautifully. They were smart, and well thought out. The audience was all seated onstage, giving the feeling of watching a play in a room of a doll house, at once sweet and intimate, and reflective of the Ibsenesque views. The whole space gave the feeling of being in a Poe novel, which was just the right ambiance, and the natural echo of the space created a natural amplification that only amped up the classical, dramatic nature of the piece. The lighting was simple, but effective, and the scenic design was spot on. The choice of the painting hanging in Dr. Paramore’s home was so brilliant the audience burst into laughter during the scene change. Leah Bonvissuto’s direction was simple, effective, and one of the highest complements to be paid: almost unnoticeable. I especially appreciated her character driven scene changes. The costume design, while not completely period specific was whimsical, and charming – especially the feather hairpiece worn by Julia, and the entire Pickwickesque ensemble sported by Sylvia.
The Philanderer is a charming play, and should be seen for no other reason then to discover this oft forgotten work by Shaw. Fortunately, in this production, the acting, direction, and design aren’t half bad either.
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