Review by Danny Gaisin
Shaw’s semi-biographical ‘The Philanderer’ offers insights not only into the man’s life, but also his attitudes & values. Lisa Peterson’s direction offers as many questions as it does – answers. Written with two endings, due to the social standards of the period, Peterson has chosen to present the original and more scandalous final act, thus bucking the customary conventionality. Good for her… it’s much more interesting and definitely better theatre. Peterson sees humour even in the heartbreaking moments. Photo by David Cooper
Merriam-Webster defines ‘philanderer’ as [a]”casual illicit sex with a woman or women, or [b] being sexually unfaithful”. The plot deals with Leonard Charteris (Shaw) and his involvement with a young widow, ‘Grace’. Coitus is interrupted by the arrival of his previous lover ‘Julia’ who can’t accept being a dump-ee. She wants him back; he seriously wants Grace who in her own way prefers to be a philander-ess (my word). Add in a progressive younger sister; two parents and a screwed-up doctor to complete the menagerie. The raison d’étre of the social association to which all are members is called the ‘Ibsen Club’ and to appreciate same, a familiarity with the playwright’s1882 work “Ghosts” will certainly be valuable. That narrative also deals with philandering, but with a weightier manifestation.
Charteris is played with a slight tongue-in-cheek manner by Gord Rand. Incorporating a highly kinetic & expressive face, he can even slouch histrionically. Surprisingly, even though he has some pithy & hilarious lines, Rand doesn’t wait until the laughter dies down before continuing his dialogue. His paramours are played to the hilt by Marla McLean as #2 –Grace; and Moya O’Connell in the role of Julia. She’s intensity personified. From an almost hammy ebullience to the intensity and drama of Act II, O’Connell is self-confident in both iterations. Her ‘I WILL NOT GO TO SOUTH DAKOTA’ declaration is a study in emphatically-paced disavowal. It’s also a catalytic moment. The conflicting discourses she has with McLean take contretemps to an apogee level and are only equalled whenever Julia’s younger sister, a liberated Harveen Sandhu (Sylvia) is onstage. She conveys her lines with gusto & verve.
The two fathers are Michael Ball (Grace’s Dad) and Ric Reid as Julia & Sylvia’s pater. Their own discourses as well as with their respective offspring, possess a different level of humor; one more geared to that particular era. Some mis-statements of names jarred our specific performance but the pithy & familiar quotes were all properly delivered… for example- “Baddy, baddy” being the converse of “Goody, Goody”. Another zinger is Charteris’ analogy about “emotion being the antithesis of intellect… and the reverse”.
There are two directorial entities that went over this viewer’s head. One was the necessity of having the cast members wearing ‘shades’ while visiting the Club. Maybe it had something to do with the ‘Non-womanly woman; non-manly Man’ theme. The other was the rationale for having tipped chairs across the stage in Act II. Both are too esoteric for this observer. The spilling of juglans regia over the floor had us concerned that we might end up witnessing a cast-member crunching Jeff Meadows (Dr. Paramore) nuts!
THE PHILANDERER is powerfully directed and impeccably performed. This is George Bernard Shaw at his best, and SHAW at its best.