By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
George Bernard Shaw stuffed enough big ideas, quotable lines, interesting characters and surprising plot turns into Misalliance to furnish half a dozen contemporary plays. Currently playing at the Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 5, IRC's enjoyable production features a large, lively cast on a too-small stage.
This comedy of ideas' plot is about many misalliances: people engaged to marry the wrong people, parents and their adult children misunderstanding each other, the wrongheaded government its beleaguered citizens, the smart money-makers and the aristocratic money-inheritors, and one of Shaw's favorite themes: the old-fashioned woman and the "new woman."
We are in a greenhouse, a lovely, airy set by Anna Kiraly which seems designed to make the actors' entrances and exits oddly awkward. We quickly see the hopelessness of the match between restless Hypatia (Heather Cole, who desperately needs a better hairdo and better costuming) and high-strung, useless Bentley (Andrew Carroll).
It will soon be revealed that Lord Summerhays, Bentley's father, (Paul McElwee) has been inappropriately smitten with Hypatia as well. Soon Bentley's best friend (John D'Alonzo—whatever accent is that?) drops in, and Hypatia is smitten with him. Through it all, her brother (David Stanger), the crass know-it-all, smugly pontificates.
But that's not the half of it. Wait until the Polish acrobat (Kristen Norine) falls out of the sky in a crashed airiplane. And a would-be murderer (Langston Darby) shows up with a (mostly unfollowable) set of grudges.
The real star of the show—both IRC's production and Shaw's script—is David Bardeen as the paterfamilias, John Tarleton, the underwear tycoon. Bardeen delivers the ideas with naturalness and ease and can make his eyes light up with excitement as he advises everybody to "Read." Mrs. Tarleton (Emily Schuman) is, if too young for the role since she looks the same age as her children, excellent as well.
Tina Brock's direction is wonderfully relentless, moving both the show and the debate along at high speed. As Lord Summerhays, late of the Raj, notes, ''Democracy reads well; but it doesn't act well, like some people's plays.'' The challenge with any Shaw play is to make the debate sparkle, to make it "act well," and, most of the time in this production, it does.
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium at the Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, 9th & Walnut Sts. Through Feb.22. Tickets $20-22. Information: www.IdiopathicRidiculopathyConsortium.org