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Shaw's 'Misalliance' and the Pearl: perfectly paired

"Misalliance," written in l9l0, was the last major play Bernard Shaw composed before World War I brought Europe to its knees.

Among the Shavian comedies and near-comedies, some of which are saddled with political and ideological baggage, "Misalliance" is a pure lark, and genuinely funny, in ways that some of Shaw's other efforts at free-wheeling humor are not.

The author set his play on a country estate in Hindhead, Surrey, England in May 1909, and it's reasonable to surmise that Shaw was in a light-hearted frame of mind when he wrote it.

This is the comedy that contains what is probably Shaw's most outrageous bit of stage business, with a Polish flight instructress, Lina Szczepanowaka, (Erika Rolfsrud,) crash-landing her light plane into the greenhouse on the estate, conveniently bringing the Pole and her student, Joey Percival, (Michael Brusasco,) into the play's second half, precisely when a bit of fresh blood and a couple of charming new characters would prove most useful.

The estate in question belongs to John Tarleton and his family, who have become rich through the manufacture of a line of popular underwear, a fact which the unpretentious and affable head of the family mentions with little if any prompting and no hint of embarrassment.

As Tarleton, Dan Daily heads director Jeff Steitzer's fine ensemble company with a beautiful rendering of the great-hearted magnate, a man completely unashamed of having risen from the working classes.

The Tarleton household includes the conventionally shockable Mrs. Tarlton, (Robin Leslie Brown,) a son, Johnny, (Bradford Cover,) and a restless daughter, Hypatia, (Lee Stark.)

The spirited Hypatia is vaguely engaged to the temper-ridden Bentley Summerhays, (Steven Boyer,) son of family friend Lord Summerhays, (Dominic Cuskern.) Bentley is given to scrapping with Johnny, and inclined to be found rolling on the floor, kicking his heels childishly against the tiling. Hypatia's sagging spirit springs to attention when the studly but impoverished Joey follows Lina from the shattered greenhouse into the family's tiled garden.

Eventually Hypatia utters one of Shaw's most memorable lines. With reference to Joey, whom she desires, she pleads with her father. "Daddy," she says, "buy me the brute!"

The Tarleton garden, designed by Bill Clarke, features a sauna more closely resembling a root cellar. When the need arises it provides a couple of characters with a hiding place in which to hide from the Tarletons and their associates.

One of the "hiders" is Gunner, a stranger with murder on his mind, played by Sean McNall.

Shaw's avowed Fabian Socialism plays little if any part in "Misalliance." The author's taste in theater, however, is touched upon. One character advises another to read "The Master Builder," by Henrik Ibsen, a dramatist Shaw admired, and later, when it is suggested that Tarleton read something, he opts for "King Lear."

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