Monday, March 8, 2010
The life force, such an important element in a George Bernard Shaw play, is missing in the Irish Repertory Theatre's dull revival of Candida, which opened last night under the direction of Tony Walton. I felt I was at an early rehearsal rather than a full production.
Walton, who also designed the set and costumes, sat in front of me, laughing repeatedly. My reaction was quite the opposite. I had to fight to stay awake in the overheated theatre, and did nod off a couple of times in the dry, talky first act.
Ciaran O'Reilly, as the middle-aged clergyman James Morell, gives the strongest performance as a happily married man assured of his beliefs and his place in the world. The play, though, should belong to his wife, Candida (Melissa Errico), but I didn’t feel Errico hit her stride until the final scene when she has to choose between her husband and Eugene Marchbanks (Sam Underwood), the awkward young poet who is enamored of her. Given Underwood’s over-the-top performance, you will have no trouble guessing her choice, even if you don’t know the play.
I also felt Brian Murray (in photo with Errico), as Candida’s father, was a bit uncertain of his lines, especially at the beginning. Xanthe Elbrick as Morrell's secretary and Josh Grisetti as his curate are serviceable.
Walton makes excellent use of that tiny Irish Rep stage, creating an ornate Victorian parlor rich in details. We got to tell him how much we liked it during the intermission when we had fled to the sidewalk to get some cool air. He said his method is to crowd in as much as possible, which would seem an unlikely approach to working with such a small space, but which works beautifully. I just wish he had given as much attention to his actors so they could shine as well.
Candida continues through April 18 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. Tickets are available by calling (212) 727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.