In a departure from his usual dramatic playwriting, George Bernard Shaw tried his hand at farce with The Philanderer, which has a conspicuously Oscar Wilde-esque flavor.
The Long Beach Playhouse sought the experience and expertise of Elaine Herman to direct the play that is decidedly not one of Shaw’s better known works. The result is less madcap than most farce, more introspective in terms of character development, and great fun.
Andy Gerges plays the philandering Leonard, whose current affections are split between Grace, a young widow, and Julia, an attractive and manipulative younger woman. Sarah Green plays no-nonsense Grace, who matches wits more than once with spoiled Julia (Darcy Porter-Phillips).
The two women both profess to be in love with Leonard, but he assures Grace he is finished with Julia. The problem is Leonard has failed to notify Julia of his preference for Grace, if he truly even has such a preference. And Julia shows up unexpectedly, in no mood to be spurned by Leonard.
The following scene has Julia and Leonard jockeying for position in a world-class display of shallowness and insincerity. In truth, the two deserve each other, but it is not meant to be.
The untimely entrance of Cuthbertson (Douglas Seagraves) and Colonel Craven (Ken Dalena), the fathers of Grace and Julia, respectively, further complicates things.
Most of the play’s characters are members of the Ibsen Club, where talk of “womanly women” and “manly men” somewhat confuses things for the audience. Yet it is necessary to expend the energy to stay with Shaw in his exploration of these concepts, as this is where the play’s treatment of progressive and traditional views of the roles of men and women in society takes shape. It could be the play’s indistinct handling of this subject matter that renders the work secondary to Shaw’s others. Still, we get the general idea.
Julia fancies herself progressive in her views of relationships and marriage. Yet Shaw ridicules her emotional weakness when faced with an equal of the opposite sex. Grace, on the other hand, represents the truly modern woman, displaying great strength of character in her ultimate decision regarding Leonard.
Cort Huckabone delivers the role of Dr. Paramore with a combination of vulnerability and farcical self-involvement. His is a character study Shaw may not even have had in mind. Paramore’s desire for Julia and visceral defeat at learning that his proudest scientific work has been disproven might have come across as palpably moving, if not for his caring more about his professional failure than about the good news it holds for Colonel Craven’s now nonexistent terminal medical condition.
The character of Julia’s younger sister Sylvia, played with spunky optimism by Amara Phelps, strangely seems to be somewhat extraneous to the plot. Alexander Shewchuk plays the club’s page boy.
The cast assembled for this production handle their roles well. But the highlight is Porter-Phillips, whose Julia is spirited, ill-behaved, bratty, and coquettish in all the right ways at all the right times. Her whiny tantrums are the stuff of which theatrical daddy’s girls are made. Bravo for her memorable performance!
The Philanderer continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through June 21. General-admission tickets are $24 and $21 for seniors. Student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014, option 1, for reservations and information. Tickets are also available at lbplayhouse.org .