As Coleman has demonstrated in the past (as with his '03 production of Shaw's Man and Superman), he knows next to nothing about the English class system examined and exposed in Shaw's plays. As the helmsman for this community's most high-profile theater organization, it is time he either gained an education in the matter or left Shavian drama alone.
I offer the following lines, spoken by the character Bentley about his would-be father-in-law, for clarification: "This is the man who objected to my marrying his daughter on the ground that a marriage between a member of the great and good middle class with one of the vicious and corrupt aristocracy would be a misalliance. A misalliance, if you please!"
The production itself understandably suffers from Coleman's misguidance. Seduced by absurdist acting feats, the audience is encouraged to laugh uproariously at socialism (Shaw was a Fabian socialist, don't forget), at racism (the most controversial line in the text, the "n-word" line, was cut from the play, diluting Shaw's attack on the racism of colonialism), and at the ideal of the New Woman (Christine Calfas as Lina Szczepanowska gives a winsome performance, but manages at times to render one of Shaw's greatest heroines ridiculously comic and vampish). Darius Pierce should be ashamed of his vaudevillian antics in the role of Gunner, and Ben Steinfeld transforms the central role of Bentley into little more than a few swishy gag lines.
Perhaps the most unbearable aspect of the production was the running time—what was written as a brisk one-act clocked in at just under three hours (with an intermission) on the evening I attended.
Portland Center Stage at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays and Jan. 28; 2 pm Sundays and Jan. 20, Feb. 3; noon Thursdays and Jan. 30-31. Closes Feb. 4. $16.50-$59.50.