“Misalliance” opened on Saturday, Aug. 8, in Madison at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Written by playwright George Bernard Shaw, “Misalliance” explores the issue of the gap between the generations particularly between parents and their children. The play also looks at social issues faced by women and the basic societal roles that people assume in their lives. These are all weighty issues, but the play is a comedy and it makes its points through the clever, witty dialog written by Shaw and some over-the-top characters that he developed.
In his Notes, Director Steven Brown-Fried mentioned the following quote that Shaw included in the preface when he wrote “Misalliance” regarding the gap between parents and children. Shaw wrote “on the subject of children, we are very deeply confused…If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson (which is not at all necessary), hold yourself up as a warning and not an example.” George Bernard Shaw was very familiar with the issue of poor parenting. His father had a drinking problem and his mother left the family when he was sixteen to move to London to pursue a life with her singing teacher and lover. During “Misalliance,” the distance between parent and child feels particularly wide when the following is said by John Tarleton, a father of two grown children: “I tell you there’s a wall ten feet thick and ten miles high between parent and child.”
The setting is a May afternoon, 1909, at the home of John Tarleton in Surrey, England, on the slope of the Hindhead. The set for this show is vivid and bright with gorgeous flowering bushes seen outside and a solarium with a library a few steps up. The use of windows allows the concept of an airy, transparent house to be created onstage.
The gap between generations and parents and children is seen in a number of instances and particularly with Hypatia Tarleton, John Tarleton’s daughter. Hypatia is impatient with her life. Although she is not in love with him, she is engaged to Bentley, Lord Summerhays’ son. However, she doesn’t want a convention life; she wants adventures. To this end, she delivers one of the best lines of the play, “I want to be an active verb.” She has tried to become that active verb by trying to have a relationship with Lord Summerhays but she realized he was too old for her. Another adventure involves a romp in the heather with the pilot of a plane that crashed into the family’s greenhouse which later ends up breaking her engagement to Bentley.
Representing the parental side is John Tarleton, a businessman who has more money than many members of the aristocracy who are represented by Lord Summerhays. Tarleton likes to live large both with his success and his love life. Events of his past bring in a young man with a gun who really stirs things up. When Tarleton cannot bridge the gap between himself and the young man, his wife intercedes and calms it all down demonstrating the value of women to the family. And then we see another parent/child gap when we learn that the man never did talk things through with his mother about what really happened with her and John Tarleton.
One of the most colorful characters in the play is a female acrobat who was the passenger on the plane that crashed. The acrobat comes from a family who takes turns risking their lives every day. Not only does she demonstrate her physical strength and skills, but she also takes a strong stand for women’s rights. She is against getting married explaining that women need to stand on their own. Her actions are reflective of the fight for women’s rights and suffrage which had gathered interest and momentum in the late Victorian period and in 1903 with the founding of The Women’s Social and Political Union.
When watching “Misalliance,” one needs to remember that it was written during a period of immense social and political change. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and the succession of her son, Edward VII, led to changes in social values. Add into that the rise of a wealthy merchant/industrial class, the fight for women’s rights, the growth of socialist organizations, and other social factors and you have a play where George Bernard Shaw saw his world undergoing tremendous changes. He represented them through these gaps with dialog that is funny but with an underlying meaning.
The cast includes Ames Adamson as businessman John Tarleton, Brian Cade plays Johnny Tarleton, heir to his father’s business. Katie Fabel plays daughter Hypatia Tarleton, and playing Lord Summerhayes is Jonathan Gillard. Bentley Summerhays is played by Matthew Sherbach with Erika Rolfsrud as Mrs. Tarleton. Caralyn Kozlowski plays Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska and Robbie Simpson plays Joey Percival. Matt Kleckner, plays Gunner.
“Misalliance” will continue playing until Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 at The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), Madison, NJ. For tickets, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600, or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org, or email BoxOffice@ShakespeareNJ.org.