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‘Misalliance' second act redeems first; Despite yawns, Shaw play is a good fit for namesake festival

Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont.—There comes a point in nearly every play by George Bernard Shaw when boredom starts to creep in from the wings.

It might happen in the middle of a well-reasoned speech on the nature of human knowledge, as in snooze-inducing "Good King Charles's Golden Days," or even during the emotional exhortations of "St. Joan," Shaw's most passionate character and play.

The grand thinker and great writer for whom the Shaw Festival is named simply couldn't help his own desire to sermonize. It is part of his charm. And the clear acknowledgement and embrace of that central Shavian flaw is the main asset of Eda Holmes' lovely production of his comedy "Misalliance," which opened in the Royal George Theatre on May 25.

Most of the literature and criticism about "Misalliance" will tell you that this 1909 play is a lighthearted take on the issues that preoccupied Shaw throughout his life: the separation of the classes, the rise of the so-called "New Woman," the questionable wisdom of pursuing knowledge above experience.

And it is all of those things. But perhaps above all, "Misalliance" is chiefly concerned with making fun of its own author's irrepressible urge to preach. Here, Shaw skewers not only the social conventions of the time, but his own propensity for boring his audiences half to death before swooping in to revive them at the last second.

And therein lies its true significance -- all the more noteworthy in a Shaw Fest season that features only two of its namesake's plays this season. The action occurs largely in the drawing room of a quirky, upper-middle-class family, helmed by the book-obsessed underwear magnate John Tarleton (Thom Marriott). His daughter, the smug and libidinous Hypatia (Krista Colosimo), is slowly resigning herself to the idea of marrying a wormy and equally smug young man named Bentley (Ben Sanders). Thrown in for good measure are the proto-Reaganite Johnny Tarleton (Jeff Meadows); Bentley's upper-crust father Lord Summerhays (Peter Krantz), himself more of a Rockefeller Republican; and the largely absent Mrs. Tarleton (Catherine McGregor).

As expected, these characters soon launch into all manner of debates about the books they read, the company they keep, the businesses they run. and just as you start to tune out from all the circular repartee, Colosimo's Hypatia speaks exactly what is on your mind:

"If parents would only realize how they bore their children! three or four times in the last half hour I've been on the point of screaming," she declares to Lord Summerhays, who is stunned at her reaction to all their talk. "This eternal cackle, cackle, cackle about things in general is only fit for old, old, old people. I suppose it means something to them: they've had their fling. all I listen for is some sign of it ending in something, but just when it seems to be coming to a point ... it all begins over again and I realize that it's never going to lead anywhere and never going to stop. that's when I want to scream. I wonder how you can stand it."

Good question.

Not long thereafter, a plane crashes through the roof of the house, answering Hypatia's prayers, instantly curing her and the audience's boredom and delivering a dashing young pilot (wade Bogert O'Brien) and an insane female Polish daredevil (the hilarious Tara Rosling). from there on out, the play becomes a far, far more amusing affair in which Shaw essentially apologizes with extreme flair for a career full of droning lectures.

In addition to a slog of a first act, the production suffers from a couple of lackluster performances -–notably those of Colosimo as Hypatia, whose attempt at bright-eyed petulance is never quite convincing, and an uneven Meadows as Johnny. Marriott, however, is aloof and full of hilarious false pride as the paterfamilias and Rosling, costumed in a silver jumpsuit, is screamingly funny.

for a festival inching further away each year from its Shavian mandate, "Misalliance" -– despite the minor drawbacks -- is the right play at the right time.

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"Misalliance" 3 stars (Out of four)

George Bernard shaw makes light of himself in this clever shaw festival comedy. through Oct. 27, Royal George theatre, 85 Queen st., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. tickets, (800) 511-7429 or shawfest.com .

cdabkowski@buffnews.com