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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Pearl Theatre Company


  Rachel Botchan and Bradford Cover/ Ph: Jacob J. Goldberg

Who knew that George Bernard Shaw's second play, The Philanderer, was a precursor of sharp-witted sitcoms like Frasier? Being a fan of well-written situation comedies, I mean no disrespect by the comparison. And because the play runs more than two hours, it naturally has more on its mind than a half-hour sitcom. Still, Shaw's sophomore effort is quite funny, and its main character is a smart, sophisticated bachelor who has complicated relationships with women. Director Gus Kaikkonen also incorporates a good deal of physical comedy, which happens to be a strong suit of Frasier.
The title character of Shaw's play is Leonard Charteris (Bradford Cover), a late 19th-century London gentleman who considers himself an Ibsenist. Shaw himself was heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen and admitted that Charteris was largely a self-portrait. The play opens with Charteris wooing Grace Tranfield (Rachel Botchan) in her townhouse. Everything is going well until Grace learns that Charteris hasn't managed to extricate himself from his relationship with Julia Craven (Karron Graves), despite his best efforts. "It is your mission to rescue me from Julia," he tells Grace while proposing marriage. 
If only it were so easy. Julia, we soon learn, is fiery, extremely emotional, and not at all inclined to give up Charteris. In Ibsenist parlance, she's a "womanly woman." (There's also much talk of "manly men.") Charteris tries to reason with Julia, reminding her that they share "advanced views" that allow either one to end the relationship at any time. Instead of letting Charteris to move on, however, she throws herself at him. Literally.
Later, at the Ibsen Club, we meet Julia's sister Sylvia (Shalita Grant), who dresses like a man. Their father, Colonel Daniel Craven (Dan Daily), is also at the club as the guest of Grace's father, Joseph Cuthbertson (Dominic Cuskern). Dr. Percy Paramore (Chris Mixon) is a friend and member, too. Much to his chagrin, it turns out that he misdiagnosed the colonel with a terminal illness. The colonel is relieved that he can again drink alcohol and eat meat but is irritated that he had to do without for so long.
Near the end of the diverting play the colonel tells Julia to "stop sniveling. I'm not speaking as your father. I'm speaking as your commanding officer." Daily is just right as the colonel – distinguished, proper and often disappointed by everyone around him. In the central role Cover is excellent as well. He rattles off Shaw's witty dialogue with style and is quite adept at slapstick comedy. In one of his best scenes he cracks wise while playing the harpsichord (another parallel with Frasier, who plays the piano). As Julia, Graves is energetic and gets laughs, but at times she does too much shrieking. On the other hand, Botchan's Grace is too polite and restrained. 
Kaikkonen keeps the action moving along at a good clip, and Jo Winiarski's set adapts cleverly for the three locations.
With its criticism of marriage and depiction of open relationships, The Philanderer still feels a bit racy. Written in 1893 it wasn't performed on stage until 1902 due to censorship. While it is rather lightweight and hardly as intellectually stimulating as Shaw's later masterworks like Heartbreak House and Misalliance, it is nonetheless an entertaining mix of wit, satire and physical comedy. And who knew that Shaw was such a playboy, driving all the Ibsen-loving London ladies wild with desire?


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