Washington Stage Guild refreshes Shaw’s “Candida”

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George Bernard Shaw posted candidiasis in 1898. Although it was not performed in London until it was a hit in New York in 1903, where it inspired what Shaw called “Candidamania”, the play’s American debut scored candidiasis as a play worthy of a global audience and proclaimed Shaw much more than a budding playwright.

Emelie Faith Thompson as Candida and Nathan Whitmer as James Morell in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida at the Washington Stage Guild through October 20. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The production of candidiasis currently appearing at the Washington Stage Guild (WSG) proves why the play inspired Candidamania and why Shaw has remained one of the world’s most beloved playwrights.

candidiasis is one of Shaw’s “Play’s Pleasants”, meaning he is more interested in relationships than political or social ideas. It is subtitled “A mystery”.

The primary human emotion he studies is love, specifically the love between a husband, Reverend James Morrell, and his wife, Candida Morrell. The Morrells’ marriage is tested when he is confronted by a poet, Eugene Marchbanks, who declares that he also loves Candida.

Although this triangle is central to the plot of the play, candidiasis is not a simple story that is told to see which male gets the female. Instead, Shaw included multiple characters in order to complicate the narrative and deepen the mystery.

Shaw couldn’t stand foreign characters. Even the people who had the fewest lines to say in his plays existed for a reason. In candidiasis, it included: Morrell’s stepfather, Burgess; a young curate named Rev. Alexander Mill; and Morrell’s secretary, Proserpine Garnett.

These three characters exist to allow the relationships between Candida, Morrell, and Marchbanks to take on different elements. As the play progresses, the audience not only sees the people caught in an impossible triangle, but the mini-society around them, commenting on their behavior.

candidiasis takes place in the parsonage of St. Dominic in the suburbs of London on the morning, afternoon and evening of an October day.

Ben Ribler as Eugene Marchbanks and David Bryan Jackson as Mr. Burgess in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida at the Washington Stage Guild through October 20. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

In the WSG production, Candida is quite the star the playwright wanted her to be. According to Shaw, she’s “33, well-built…with the twin charms of youth and motherhood.” As we continually note, everyone loves Candida because she always says the right thing, does the right thing, always puts people at ease.

As Candida, Emelie Faith Thompson takes over the family living room the moment she first enters it. Gradually, Thompson makes it clear that while she expresses warm feelings for the characters around her, Candida clearly relies on her own wits and wits to survive.

Nathan Whitmer, who plays Reverend James Morrell, is believable as a popular and confident socialist Christian cleric who believes there’s nothing wrong with his life until he takes Marchbanks under his wing.

Ben Ribler is a delight as Marchbanks, the 18-year-old son of an earl and so – crucially – not after the Candida fortune. Marchbanks is a complex character, scared of strangers and paying taxi drivers, but able to firmly confront Morrell about how he treats Candida. Ribler easily shows both sides of Marchbanks.

As Burgess, David Bryan Jackson is one of the strongest cast members. Greedy and self-absorbed, Jackson’s Burgess is suspicious of Morrell, but he’s also capable of showing love to his daughter.

Danny Beason plays the parish priest, Reverend Mill, as a lovable, self-aware young man straight out of Oxford helping Morrell with his chores. Danielle Scott does an excellent job as Miss Garnett, who is flattered to sit at Morrell’s left hand and type her letters all day.

Laura Giannarelli leads the show at a fast pace and with an emphasis on her abundant humor. Presumably, she’s responsible for the details that make this production so authentically Shavian, like Reverend Mills’ curly hair and Burgess’ Cockney accent, which set him apart from all the other characters who speak in a posh London accent.

The scenographers Carl Gudenius and Jingwei Dai create a living room closely related to that described by Shaw in the preface to candidiasis: a large desk for Morrell, a smaller typing desk for Miss Garnett, a fireplace against the back wall and above it a print of Titian’s “The Assumption of the Virgin”.

Cheryl Yancey accurately portrays the role of clergymen in their black outfits and white collars. She gives Marchbanks a wild and disorganized look to match her personality. Yancey also vividly portrays the economic status of the women in the play: Candida wears an elegant pink dress and black fur cape on her travels, and a less fanciful dress at home; Miss Garnett wears long skirts and high-necked blouses.

Lighting designer Marianne Meadows breaks up Shaw’s scenes with crisp blackouts.

Washington Stage Guild has been doing Shaw’s work since 1986, when the company took shape. During this period they had the opportunity to produce half of Shaw’s approximately 60 plays, including all the pleasant and unpleasant plays. If you like Shaw done the way it should be, no filters, you really should make an effort to make it happen Candidiasis.

Runtime: 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission

Washington Scenes Guild candidiasis plays until October 20 at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Ave, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (202) 900-8788 or meet in line.

Sound engineer: Frank DiSalvo

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