Pittsburgh Public Theater will be staging George Bernard Shaw classic 'Candida'

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

It's been 20 years since a play by George Bernard Shaw has been part of a Pittsburgh Public Theater season.

That's far too long, decided producing artistic director Ted Pappas, who chose Shaw's “Candida” to correct this lapse. He's also directing the play, which will run through May 18 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

“Candida,” first published in 1898, is a serious comedy about love and marriage set in a middle-class vicarage in the outskirts of London, far from the tonier neighborhoods of Mayfair or St. James.

When the Rev. Morrell takes an idealistic young man under his wing, his good intentions disrupt Morrell's well-ordered home life and his comfortable marriage to Candida.

The highly opinionated, but shy, Eugene Marchbanks thinks he would be a better match for Morrell's wife, Candida, and challenges the comfortable assumptions under which Morrell has been living. Marchbanks' challenge sets off a three-way tug-of-war involving the self-satisfied parson, the passionate young poet and Candida, who proves to be the most mature, compassionate and sensible of the participants.

“It's a great comedy intended to be treated with affection and laughter,” Pappas says. “Shaw has written a play that feels incredibly modern and puts onstage people from all walks of life.”

Like many people, Pappas had never seen a production of “Candida,” though he had read it as an undergraduate. On re-reading it, he discovered that it stood the test of time.

“When read, it's a delight. … It captivated me,” he says. “It felt so completely modern and immediate.”

Now that he is directing it, he likes it even more. “It plays well, in fact better than it reads. It's full of dry, brilliant characters, and the language is sparkling.”

It's also one of Shaw's shortest plays, with a running time of less than two hours, he says.

Pappas first looked into “Candida” because he was looking for a play for actress Gretchen Egolf, who had previously appeared in Pittsburgh Public Theater productions of “As You Like It” and “The Secret Letters of Jackie and Marilyn.”

Egolf happily agreed to return to play the title role, Pappas says.

But, he also realized the role of Marchbanks would be the perfect vehicle for a return appearance by Jared McGuire, who appeared in last season's “Clybourne Park.”

“With Marchbanks, Shaw has written a dimensional character who is an artist and genius who lives by his own rules. … He has his own rules of imagination and personality,” Pappas says. “Shaw has created a character who embodies all this in his intuition that is beyond his years.”

McGuire knew the play from reading and doing a scene from it while in college and was eager to return to the role of Marchbanks.

“It is one of the greatest, most challenging roles out there,” McGuire says. “It is one of the most challenging things I have done — to get inside his character, his unforgiving certitude, to connect with the knowledge he has,” McGuire says. “He is all-knowing and completely ignorant.”

While working on such a complex character has been demanding, it has also been rewarding, McGuire says.

“Nobody writes characters better than Shaw, and his descriptions — there is nothing better for getting to know your character, and (Shaw) is just so funny. He gave me a lot of insight.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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