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January 17th, 2007 James Walling | Theater
 

Misalliance

Chris Coleman and George Bernard Shaw: a marriage made in hell.

     
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[MISREAD MASTERPIECE] It boggles the mind to think that Chris Coleman actually read a play as expertly crafted as George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance—let alone directed it—and managed to completely misunderstand not only most of its central themes, but even the meaning of its title. Unfortunately, this is exactly what he has done. The title refers to the chaos that ensues after opposing members of the upper middle class and the aristocracy in Edwardian England attempt to intermarry. However, Portland Center Stage's website claims that the play is about "the varietal mating instincts of the guests gathered at an aristocrat's country estate on a summer weekend." The fact that the country estate in question—the setting of the play—is actually the home of a middle-class family seems to have escaped Coleman's notice.

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.

—JAMES WALLING.


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.
 
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