Talented actress given free rein in Shaw’s ‘Candida’

Anne Newhall is one of those actresses who is impossible to not watch, and you can’t quite figure out why.

She can come off hammy in small roles, because she pulls focus, inappropriately, with just a scratch of the arm, or a blinking of the eye. But in a lead role, where we’re meant to examine up-close her every reflection, we can enjoy her without guilt.

In the title role of “Candida,” she’s meant to look lovely while subjugating herself to her pastor husband, flirting with a young man, and then suddenly taking charge and making a decision that greatly affects everyone involved. She’s believable on all three counts because there’s always something sensual, kind and dangerous going on in her head. She suggests mountains of intriguingly conflicting thought.

Newhall’s talent is given free rein in Kathleen F. Conlin’s expert direction of George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 comedy. If you know the script, you may be surprised at how much comedy and romance Conlin is able to realize from it.

The story is a love triangle. The Rev. James Mayor Morell (Donald Sage Mackay) is a likable sort, a tad pompous, and a little too sure of his wife’s devotion. Eugene Marchbanks (Shawn Fagan) is a neurotically sensitive 18-year-old poet who openly declares his love for Morell’s 33-year-old wife. Shaw being Shaw, the situation results in lots of humorous and profound debate.

What’s very unlike Shaw, though, is the romantic ending. Candida makes a well-thought choice. You may not salute her reasoning, but the depth of her sentiment makes for one of the most moving endings to any of the great playwright’s works.

Conlin and cast are finely in-tune to every shift in character mood. Mackay walks like a man used to being listened to. That’s why it’s so powerful when he loses some of his gait when his marriage is threatened.

Fagan’s a perfectly over-the-top love-sick adolescent. The actor’s command of movement goes a long way in suggesting a boy who hasn’t yet learned how to prevent his emotions from dictating his body control. Yet, Fagan never allows us to dismiss his character as a mere comic diversion.

Michael Carnahan’s drawing-room set suggests the home environment of an educated, successful man, that has been heavily influenced by feminine tastes.

But what makes this “Candida” so special is how human Conlin and cast have made it. We usually think of Shaw in terms of mind. Who knew he had such an appealing heart?

— By ANTHONY DEL VALLE

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