Major mishaps mar Main Street's Misalliance

by Eric James

Daily Cougar Staff

Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market is presenting a classic play for its latest production.

That production, Misalliance, by George Bernard Shaw, proves that simply because you are working from a master's piece, you are not automatically promised a hit.

Despite some fine acting and brilliant dialogue, Misalliance suffers some major mishaps. It is partially Shaw's fault, and partially Main Street's fault (including director Rebecca Greene Udden), that the play fails where it does.

Set in 1909, in the conservatory of John Tarleton's country house, the play is billed as "a clever comedy about eight courtships among seven people."

Bentley Summerhays (Scott Tesh), also known as Bunny, is set to marry Tarleton's daughter Hypatia (Jean Ann Hutsell). Hypatia, the classic turn-of-the-century daughter bored with country life, likes to flirt with Bunny's father, Lord Summerhays (Freeman Williams).

Bunny annoys everyone, you see, especially Tarleton (Stan Kansas) and his father. Mrs. Tarleton (Claire Hart-Palumbo), however, seems to hold a soft spot for the little brat, who throws himself on the ground and pitches a fit if he doesn't get his way.

Tarleton (Dan Flahive), of Tarleton Underwear, watches over it all, oblivious to the uprisings around him. He drops phrases like "The only truths are paradoxes," and, "Read so and so."

The first act sets up the boredom of Hypatia and the social satire of the play. Lines that Mrs. Tarleton delivers like, "I never thought a Duchess to have something so common as an inside," and, when speaking of Bunny, "He's overbred -- like one of those little dogs," are classic examples of Shaw's wit.

The first half, however, is spent too much on philosophizing, such as when Hypatia states, "Never marry the man you're in love with," and Lord Summerhays quips, "Democracy reads well, but it doesn't work out well. Rather like some people's plays." With these telling musings, the first act bogs down in argument and debate.

While this is mainly the fault of Shaw's writing, the actors also play a part in this downfall. Hart-Palumbo and Tesh give wonderfully comedic turns as Mrs. Tarleton and Bunny, but Kansas and Williams are inclined to play their roles a bit too straight.

This is social satire -- light comedy. Yet, the actors try desperately to make drama out of it. Hutsell's British accent is a bit weak, and she plays her part with a constant head turn and sly look. By the end of the play, you just want to slap the smugness out of her character.

The true disappointment is Flahive as Tarleton. He is relentless in his stuffy, upstanding portrayal of the Tarleton patriarch. The play states, "He's not all there." He sells underwear, for God's sake!

Where he should be far more eccentric and just plain goofy, he comes across as a mere flake. The character should have breathed new life into the play, but instead he slows it down and adds nothing to the energy level of the comedy.

The strength comes in the second act, when an airplane crashes down into the Tarleton's greenhouse. The family is thus introduced to the handsome pilot, Joey Percival (Joel Sandel), and his Polish acrobat passenger, Lina Szczepanowska (Martha Mazeika).

Where Hypatia is instantly smitten with Percival, the entire male population is taken by the sexually carnivorous Lina. To say the least, this is where most of the eight affairs take place.

A strange man billed as Mr. Gunner (Mark J. Roberts) also appears in the second act. For reasons not initially stated, Gunner wants to shoot Mr. Tarleton and then take his own life.

The second act comes alive with the presence of these three actors. Roberts, Mazeika and Sandel deliver the play's strongest performances. The three elevate the play to the comic standards set forth by Shaw. They are quick with the wit, and introduce three unforgettable portrayals.

The social aspect of the play also becomes stronger in the second half. The wit is quicker, and the play shows how people of lower status teach the upper class a thing or two about life.

Shaw takes cracks at social order, traditional gender roles, and even the theater. While the language is brilliant, the play just can't drag itself out of the mediocrity of some of its performances. Much like Tarleton, who calls his wife "Chickabiddy" and buys Turkish baths, the entire play should just be a lot loopier.

Misalliance plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through May 19 at Main Street Theater, located in Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, in the Museum District. There will be no performance this Friday.

Tickets are $10 to $15, with discounts for students and groups of 10 or more. For more information, call 524-6706.

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