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Theater Review: Misalliance

Joshua Bitton and Trisha Miller in Misalliance. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

In the last century (and even the tail end of the century before), George Bernard Shaw was a giant of a playwright. Some of his vast output is still performed regularly today: Saint Joan, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Man and Superman. His Pygmalion forms the foundation of one of the most successful musicals ever, My Fair Lady. But Pasadena’s A Noise Within looked beyond the familiar to produce 1910’s Misalliance.

The theater company brought back Guillermo Cienfuegos, Artistic Director of Rogue Machine, who last year produced their successful Much Ado About Nothing, to helm Misalliance.  As in that one, Cienfuegos keeps the energy level high. Shaw’s characters expound on the nature of men and women, related to marriage, money, careers, even physical strength.

On a breathtaking set by scenic designer Angela Balogh Calin, six men and three women hold a wild rumpus, upending what were at the time deeply inculcated societal values. The men are mostly loathsome: the lecherous and nouveau riche underwear tycoon John Tarleton (Peter Van Norden), his smug son Johnny (Riley Shanahan) and potential son-in-law, the “spoiled young pup” Bentley (Josey Montana McCoy). Bentley is engaged to Hypatia (a charismatic Erika Soto), but his own father, Lord Summerhays (Frederick Stuart), has himself been pursuing her. Uncomfortable lechery runs deep among the older crowd.

Despite her engagement, Hypatia is restless and looking for fun she is unlikely to find in her future husband—or his father. She has a fear of “withering” and repeatedly expresses a craving for adventure that seems to indicate she realizes her impending marriage is destined to bring her misery. Hypatia’s mother (Deborah Strang) finds Bentley “overbred, like a dog,” but after all, one cannot risk marrying for love.

Josey Montana McCoy, Deborah Strang, Riley Shanahan, Frederick Stuart and Peter Van Norden in Misalliance. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

When some uninvited guests—Lina Szczepanowska (Trisha Miller) and Joseph Percival (Dan Lin)—quite literally drop in, Hypatia’s desires are given wing. The action steps up and the sexual tension expands.

Surprisingly sex-filled for its time, yet also verbose, Misalliance alternates between flashy action and too much talk—almost three hours’ worth. The play must have been shockingly subversive in its day, with a self-assured and accomplished aviatrix almost two decades before Amelia Earhart became a celebrity. Tarleton’s explanation that he never gets tired because “I never go on long enough for that,” would work well in a contemporary comedy.

As a period piece, Misalliance reveals what passed for enlightened pre-World War I. A Noise Within gives it the full treatment; it is beautifully and lushly produced, directed, and acted, leaning in on the subversive fun.

Misalliance runs through June 9 on Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. (There’s no evening performance on Saturday, June 8). Post–performance conversations with the artists will take place every Friday and on the more traffic-friendly Sunday, May 26.  It all happens at A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. There’s free parking in an adjacent structure.

Peter Van Norden, Frederick Stuart, Erika Soto and Dan Lin in Misalliance. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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