Shaw's Candida Reigns at Cal Shakes

Top to bottom: Anthony Fusco, Julie Eccles and Nick Gabriel in Candida; photo by Kevin Berne

California Shakespeare Theatre presents Candida (1895)--George Bernard Shaw's brilliant and witty comedy about a morally superior clergyman (Anthony Fusco) in turn of the 20th century London, his enigmatically charismatic wife (Julie Eccles) and the wildly romantic young poet (Nick Gabriel) who puts the very foundation of their marriage to the ultimate test.  Who will housewife Candida choose--her middle aged clergyman husband or the young poet, hoping to whisk her away from the life he deems beneath her? As always with Shaw, neither the answers nor the questions are clearly cut. 

Shaw's plot positions each of these main characters at one corner of a marital triangle. At the two sided base of the triangle, we find the Reverend James Morell, a pastor with an increasingly high profile as a dynamic man of letters who is so much in demand as a public speaker that it leaves little time to spend with his wife, even though he adores her. In the opposite corner is Morell's lovely and clearly intelligent wife, Candida.  At the tip of the triangle is the catalyst for digging beneath the seemingly blissful marriage--a shy and awkward young poet, Eugene Marchbanks, who Morell has taken under his wing.  

Whatever her real age, Julie Eccles looks just right for the age (33 years) Shaw envisioned her to be. Yet the character Shaw created is ageless and her appeal is essentially more maternal than sexual. Forcefully in charge of the household, yet feminine and flirtatious.  The exceptionally pretty Julie Eccles proves herself a vibrant and solid actress.

Anthony Fusco is a fine actor and captures the subtlety of Morell who's been made overly self confident as the only boy in a household of an indulgent mother and sisters.  

Nick Gabriel is most persuasive in playing the bashful Eugene Marchbanks, who's passion gives him the courage to speak his mind.  

While Jarion Monroe has a subsidiary role as Mr. Burgess, Candida's pragmatic father, this actor with his impish grin and booming voice really steals the show!  He adds a generous dose of humor as does the terrific and enjoyable Alexandra Henrikson as the Reverend's typist, Proserpine Garnett.  Her "Prossy: is adorably uptight and with the help of two glasses of champagne, unhinged.  

Liam Vincent plays the role of Reverend Lexy Mill, the young curate chosen by Morell as his assistant.  Vincent's Lexy is a well intentioned, enthusiastic novice.  

Director Jonathan Moscone supports his cast with an artful and attentive production that really takes the stage at Cal Shakes.  Annie Smart's fantastic set also steals the show with her amazing backdrop and gives the Morell parlor and study the rich look of a Broadway production.  Anna Oliver deserves a big hand also for the rich look of her costumes.  

Much of the play's action is a set up for the poignant climax. Both a top notch cast and director of Candida see to it the entire evening makes for good theatre.  

Candida opened Saturday, August 13 at the California Shakespeare Theatre (Bruns Amphitheatre, off Highway 24, Orinda) and plays through Sunday, September 4.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 4 p.m. There will be a special Saturday matinee, September 3 at 2 p.m. All tickets are available through California Shakespeare Theatre's Box Office, 510-548-9666 or online at

Coming up next at Cal Shakes will be The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare and directed by Shana Cooper, September 21-October 16, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson