The Pearl Theatre Company revival of George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer had many in the audience wondering why this delightful and deliciously scandalous play is not produced more often. Of course, the sex implied and on view between corseted women and waist-coated men is nothing to raise a contemporary eyebrow, but in its day, 1893, it was banned for 15 years.
Opening with a full bosomed woman, Grace Tranfield (Rachel Botchan) in a compromising position with a known philanderer Leonard Charteris (Bradford Cover) on a divan, this comedy replete with Shavian tropes on such forward thinking subjects as the sexes, the coy pleasures of friendship vs. marriage, the virtues and joylessness of vegetarianism, the dialogue could have been lifted from the pages of a lifestyle magazine.
Enter Julia Craven (Karron Graves) on the spooning couple. A young woman convinced Charteris belongs to her, and despite pretensions to "advanced views," she has her way as only certain well-heeled women of her time do, throwing fits. Much of the ideology of this play pays homage to Ibsen whose A Doll's House radicalized Londoners on the subject of marriage as a compromising state for women. To complete the patriarchal voices are the rival's fathers Joseph Cuthbertson (Dominic Cuskern) and Colonel Daniel Craven (Dan Daily), and by extension, another suitor Dr. Percy Paramore (Chris Mixon), and Julia's gender bending younger sister Sylvia (Shalita Grant).
Of course, a philanderer is nothing more than a rake in finer suits and cravats. Smooth talking, Charteris deftly works the philosophy as only Shaw could have penned; the play is charming, and may be the funniest of the theater season. But as Grace, the play's "New Woman," gives the final word, "Don't make a hero of a philanderer."
My fondness for the Pearl Theatre aside, this is the kind of work this fine ensemble was meant to do. At a reception following the rapturous opening, Karron Graves told me she is not a member, but was brought in by director Gus Kaikkonen who had worked with the actress before. Exceptionally good as an outrageous sniveler, flirting as well as hitting the floor, and pounding her fists to make a point, she said, "He believed in my neurosis."
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