What to Make of the World Today? Just Ask G.B. Shaw

Strang, Britton. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw might be considered a chestnut written more than 100 years ago, except for the fresh production the play is receiving from A Noise Within.  It represents just another in a chain of spot-on performances for which this theatre company is known.  What’s more, we may take away more than just a frothy send-up of the class system in England to consider our own divisions in a new light.

The plot brings together an industrialist family (John Tarleton of Tarleton Underwear, played by Peter Van Norden) with aristocratic Lord Summerhays (Frederick Douglas) and his effete son, Bentley (“Bunny,” played by Josey Montana McCoy) on the eve of a hoped-for engagement announcement that will unite “Bunny” and Miss Hypatia Tarleton (Erika Soto).  

One of the most fascinating things I discovered in doing background research for this review concerns the name, Hypatia.  I learned that the original Hypatia was an ancient follower of Greek philosophy at a time when Christian fanatism was rising. She incurred such wrath that Christians tore her limb from limb.  It is significant that Shaw’s creation is also torn, but in a very different way.  In Misalliance, she is driven, as she says, by her desire “to be an active verb.”  Instead, at the center of desire, philosophies, and actions, she is pulled this way and that, as Shaw maneuvers her through his minefield of opinions.  

What actually occurs includes an invading aeroplane pilot, Lina Szczepanowska (Trisha Miller) and passengers, as well as a bono fide anarchist (Joshua Bitton), who hides out in a newly delivered Turkish bath with hopes of righting the wrongs of the social order. Instead of mayhem (well, that, too), we are guests at a very spirited discussion of class, gender, and politics that might be taking place on any day.  No wonder Shaw called this play “a debate in one sitting”!  

Under Guillermo Cienfuegos masterful direction, and with a dollop of help from dialect coach, Andrea Odinov, along with fight choreographer, Kenneth Merckx, the performers recreate the upwardly aspirational Tarleton’s family life when invaded by the upper and underclasses alike.  While the entire cast excels, notably, Erika Soto’s Hypatia and Josey McCoy’s Bunny make a perfectly misaligned couple. ANW’s Deborah Strang, as Mrs. Tarleton, brings her natural warmth to her motherly role, and Frederick Douglas’ inherent humanity allows us to sympathize with his beleaguered aristocrat. 

But the production could not be as exceptional without Angela Balog Calin’s set design, along with Christine Cover Ferro’s period costumery and Tony Valdes’ wigs.  In all, the production elements embrace the heady conversation, allowing us to emerge with the certain understanding that although “history repeats itself,” we can laugh along the way.

Misalliance continues at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd.,  Pasadena 91107, Thursdays at 7:30 pm.  Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 and  8 pm (no evening performance June 8), and Sundays at 2 pm through June 9th 2024. Tickets start at $29, with student discounts available.  For information or tickets call (626) 356-3100 or go online to: www.anoisewithin.org.