Candida is not a play about yeast; it’s a play about love.
Rev. James Mavor Morell is a boisterous, loquacious Englishman with a penchant for preaching. His wife is Candida. She is named for the word “candid,” an apt description of her clever and frank nature. A woman in her 40s, she’s still considered the biggest catch in town. James adores Candida. Eugene Marchbanks, a 20-year-old privileged poet, adores her, too. Eugene is the quintessential lovesick puppy—infatuated as much with the thought of love as with the thing itself. He believes a woman should be nurtured like the fragile flower she is. He thinks that through philosophy and passion, he can offer Candida more than her husband, and he tells James just that. The reverend, of course, is outraged, but he’s initially unconcerned. As the play winds on, however, his insecurities start to rattle him. And therein lies the plot: The two men fight each other for Candida’s affections, and eventually, she must choose.
Candida, for the record, is no flower. She’s a woman born into the age of women’s suffrage. When George Bernard Shaw wrote the play in the 1890s, women’s fight for the right to vote was in full swing in the U.K. and the U.S. Appropriately so, Candida is no demure Victorian. She’s also not a rabble-rouser, or even a vocal advocate for female equality. But she is honest, and strong, and unflinching. And that’s something.
It’s messy and confusing, and the answer isn’t entirely satisfying. And that’s what makes the story ring true.
Leslee Richards plays the title role well. In the first act, she comes across overly matronly—after all, Candida is supposed to hold the attentions of the entire town, and she’s inspired a young man to face off against her husband in order to win her love. It seems like she should be sensual, possibly a bit of a tease. But Candida—in the first act, at least—seems more great aunt than goddess. By the time the second act rolls around, however, her persona makes more sense. She may be maternal, but through that trait she’s constantly showering the men around her with attention. She prizes her ability to keep a home and buttress her man, and the male characters in the play love her for those qualities.
Simon Green, who plays Rev. James Mavor Morell, and J. Paul Zimmerman, who takes the role of Eugene Marchbanks, work off each other gracefully. Their characters both hold their own shares of ego and self-doubt, and the two steer themselves through the landscapes of their emotions and pretensions not on tiptoes but with great, ground-shaking stomps.
Comic relief is found in Miss Proserpine Garnett (Lacey Bingham), who serves as the reverend’s secretary. Dowdy and lonely, “Prossy” is a role that could be very sad but is instead made whimsical, mainly through Bingham’s easy and gangly physicality.
It’s Jim Cady, who plays Candida’s father, Mr. Burgess, who steals the show. Burgess is the archetypal gravely voiced old wisecracker. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about his character, but Cady plays him so seamlessly and fully that it’s hard to tell where he stops and Burgess begins.
The Adobe Theater has done a beautiful job with the set, which is a cross-section of the Morells’ living room. Warm and filled with upholstered antiques, it feels the way a well-to-do, turn-of-the-century English home should (or so I can imagine), leather armchair, fireplace and all.
Candida may be a story about love, but it’s also a story about perception—what people perceive love to be and how they feel they should deal with it. It’s messy and confusing, and the answer isn’t entirely satisfying. And that’s what makes the story ring true.