Two one acts by Shaw at Washington Stage Guild open with the master playwright’s own words, not about romantic coquetry or love and devotion, but about sex. What he’s talking about is upfront and out there, it’s scandalous sex, which he explores to the max in the first adorable of two one acts presented.
Overruled is a crisply written ditty starting with a couple seated with backs to the audience, with sweetly choreographed movements where the gentleman slowly makes his moves to get closer, trying discreetly to drape his arm around his partner’s willing shoulder, and moving in for an awaiting embrace just before she scoots away on cue.
And thus the mating game begins, at least that’s expected—man entreats beautiful woman for her luscious company, with hints of what we now refer to as “benefits.” Woman protests loudly but her body says come hither in demurely effective ways. After all the arguments and protestations have run their course, Shaw bops us over the head with a twist — admissions that both are married, each expresses hurt and dismay over being “betrayed,” and when the respective spouses enter unexpectantly, the whipped soufflé keeps getting frothier. Alan Wade directs with just the right deft touch and spins Shaw’s social protestations into masterful moments.
The four actors handle each twist with smooth delivery and perform the social minuet with ease, illustrating Shaw’s mastery of the social scene as subterfuge for lechery and self-serving gratification. The script commandeers the characters like stringed puppets and the actors have the depth to pull it off.
Nick DePinto is a standout as the wooing gentleman, with just the right panache, flair, stately carriage and bountiful expressions that can turn on a dime. He is equally matched by Rana Kay who turns on the charm with wispy kewpie doll expressions. Michael Glenn plays the buffoon-prone husband with broad appeal while Dawn Thomas plays the jilted wife as a sizzling cool siren with swinging ideas of her own.
The set design by Jonathan Rushbrook is minimalist and stylized to give the impression of a glamorous setting with an oblong divan with a dividing backrest, perfect for the characters to scoot around to escape eager clutches but also with invitingly soft cushions to snuggle and canoodle for momentary lapses of discretion. And those were plentiful, thanks to Shaw’s extensive exploration of manners, ethical behavior and morality.
The second piece, Village Wooing, is more character driven than the fun and frothy first, and Michael Glenn finally has a chance to show his depth and shades of artistic expression. He starts off as a quiet recluse widower trying desperately to make penance writing about his travels, but is thwarted at every turn by an obsessive talker who will simply not let him go.
No amount of hints, eye rolling or threats to move his chair will stop her deluge of chatter, and Kay plays the incessant communicator with an innocent charm that keeps her from being totally obnoxious. It’s a tour de force role, but Shaw didn’t seem to care that the character could get on our nerves as much as the hapless passenger’s. What turns the tide is when she makes a faux pas, misinterpreting the phrase “a man of letters”, that sends Glenn’s character into fits of uncontrollable laughter. The emotional release is so cathartic that Glenn’s character; identified only as “A” (to her “Z”) softens and loses his chilly edge, becoming more humanized from that moment on. It’s an endearing transition to watch and worth the trudge through the chatterbox mire to get there.
Noted character actor Laura Giannarelli takes the helm as director and guides us nicely through the evolving relationship of how a rather simple telephone operator could change the life journey of a reclusive intellectual, in a kind of Educating Rita scenario, despite Shaw’s disregard for how long it takes to get there and an awkwardly longish scene change along the way.
Shaw’s Wives and Wits covers his usual fav topics of morality and social consciousness with a light-hearted touch and humorous take on marriage, love, lust and sex. We are fortunately able to catch these infrequently seen pieces staged with quality and care at the Washington Stage Guild.
Wives and Wits, Two by Shaw
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directors: Overruled directed by Alan Wade
Village Wooing directed by Laura Giannarelli
Produced by WashingtonStage Guild
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission