Oregon Shakespeare Festival is at its best when they do an old chestnut in a way that makes you wonder if they haven’t rewritten it to make it more contemporary. Their production of George Bernard Shaw’s 1893 The Philanderer has me downloading the play from Project Gutenberg. It’s a pleasant task.
Most of the characters in the play are members of the Ibsen Club which is the preserve of “modern” people. It is place where womanly women and manly men — as traditionally defined — are strictly prohibited. So, of course, tension is strong when the men and women act in love, jealous, protective, scheming, or other un-modern ways.
The dialog is filled with generational taunting of the old fogies and enough references to “manly men” to make Arnold Schwarzenegger sound wimpy. The title character is told to “lump it”. And, all of this is the original lines from the 1800’s.
The OSF production for the most part lets this alive, “modern” script play out unmolested. The set, costumes, lighting, sound, and acting are happily competent and allow for the smartness of Shaw to work its magic on the audience. This is not meant to be faint praise. The 100-year-old play could have wrongly been trotted out as a period piece, as a forced quaint look backward, or as a Masterpiece to be appreciated from afar.
The director and cast mostly resisted period pomposity. They also generally refrained from using the comedy genre as an excuse for uncontrolled scenery eating.
Miriam Laube takes control of the stage a few minutes into Act I as Julia, the Ibsen Club woman who loves the Philanderer, Leonard Charteris (played by Derrick Lee Weeden). She consistently is in the present and can go into hysterics, repeatedly, without seeming to overact out of character. Her facial expressions, control, and voice work together for the storyline and without a hint of mockery.
Jim Edmondson as one of the two old fogy fathers is another standout for his clarity and reliable performance. In past OSF productions I thought he lurched from woodenness to an over-the-top pitch, but in The Plilanderer he keeps a steady, lower key, comic, fussy befuddlement.
Mark Murphey as the other father gave, as usual, great face. He was only slightly over pompous in his speech. Jeff Cummings deserves note, too as a convincing, simple, and adorable love-sick Doctor Paramour.
Weeden as The Philanderer gave a terrific facial and body movement performance. Unfortunately, in all of his roles he seems to try to sound like he is the Voice of God as imagined by a BBC newsreader. It’s unpleasant and jarringly artificial to hear him pronounce the final “d” in past-tense words as if it were a separate syllable (e.g, “moveD”, “loveD”, “walkeD”). He also draws out simple words like “view” into multi-toned audio oddities. A friend, or a director, should tell him to knock it off.
Vilma Silva as Grace, the woman who The Philander wants to marry, is strong and convincing. At her understated best, she cuts an elegant figure who commands attention of the audience and other characters. Her initial scenes were marred by her joining with Weeden in the scenery chewing verbal buffet. Thank goodness she soon brought her voice back to the present and let it match her face and bearing.
Ozdachs rating **** of *****, a high score for a comedy!