Directed by Shawn Douglass
Produced by Remy Bumppo think theatre
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
“We don’t bother much about dress and manners in England, because,
as a nation we don’t dress well and we’ve no manners.” — Valentine the Dentist
“…all matches are unwise. It’s unwise to be born; it’s unwise to be married;
it’s unwise to live; and it’s unwise to die.”– Bohun the Lawyer
Witty and hilarious Shaw comedy of manners one-ups Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest
After the success of Oscar Wilde’s 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest, George Bernard Shaw wrote , in 1896, You Never Can Tell both to one-up Wilde and to offer London theatre patrons a new comedy of manners. The result is a rarely produced yet totally funny comedy of errors filled with Shavian whimsy with elements of insight into societal critiques of Victorian values. Shaw not only wanted to write a funnier play than Wilde but he also wanted to comment on issues of the day: changing family values, individual rights, women’s rights, the role of business, law and the changing social structure of England.
So You never Can Tell, now in a splendid production by Remy Bumppo theatre under the smart direction by Shawn Douglass, is a hilarious comedy of errors and manners filled with fully developed characters that is farcical parody and comic. Shaw always finds a way to be funny, witty and quotable as he both entertains and stimulates audiences. This ambitious combination is masterfully played by a game cast of actors led by Dale Benson as the wisdom-filled waiter who dotes on the dysfunctional family at an English seaside resort.
We meet a five schilling dentist, Valentine (the erudite Greg Matthew Anderson) who works on Dolly Clandon (C. Jaye Miller) as her brother Philip (Alex Weisman) awaits. Vlentine meets Gloria (Eliza Stoughton) with whom he instantly is smitten by. This family is led by the independent mother and feminist Mrs. Clandon (Elaine Rivkin). Dolly and Philip are precocious and somewhat obnoxious yet likable. Gloria is beautiful yet stiff. Valentine desires her. The children are determined to find out who their father is so they take their place in English society after many years living in Madeira. Gloria and her mother are “modern women” not bound by the restrictive rules of Victorian society. That causes quite a quandary for Gloria as the “battle of the sexes’ emerges between Valentine and Gloria.
Add the role of ‘father’ as the bitter Cramption (Doug Hendel) and the wisdom of William, the waiter with tidbits from the lawyer McComas (Peter A. Davis) and the commanding attorney Bohun (Rob Glidden) and we have the elements of rich comedywith eccentric characters. Shaw weaves high comedy with biting satire and parody that unfolds as both funny and thought provoking.
The cast is filled with fine performances. Gregg Matthew Anderson and Eliza Stoughton square off in a searing battle of the sexes while Dale Benson is the calming voice of wisdom as the waiter. Benson, always a Chicago treasure, is hilarious as usual in a larger role that he delivers with verve and class. Elaine Rivkin is the strong-will mother and Alex Weisman and C. Jay Miller are precious as the young siblings.
You Never Can Tell contains rich English accents (fine dialect coaching by Doreen Feitelberg) and looks great with costume designer Emily Waecker’s Victorian finery. You’ll laugh while you commensurate with the characters,especially the plight of the woman. You’ll cringe with Shaw’s misogynistic comments but you’ll be highly engaged with this smart high comedy. It is so nice to see Remy Bumppo return to classical works that they do so well. This show deserves a large audience. This is terrific theatre – don’t miss it! You never can tell when it’ll be produced
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.remybumppo.org, tickets $42.50- $52.50, Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, with several matinees on various days and dates, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through January 6, 2012