Like so many of Shaw's plays, Candida is awash in his forward-thinking politics and philosophies. At its root, this is a play of ideas but Shaw wraps his positions up in such good playwriting that they become subsumed in memorable characters, hilarious scenes, and winning finales.
On its surface, the work is a domestic comedy in which an older man (Ciaran O'Reilly) is forced to re-win the love of his younger wife (Melissa Errico) when a handsome poet, albeit a boy of eighteen (Sam Underwood), tries to woo her away. But this is so much more. It's about freethinking, women's rights, the responsibilities of both men and women in marriage, and about speaking the truth.
In the process of bringing the play alive, director and designer Tony Walton's impeccable taste and talent makes the Irish Rep's postage stamp stage and the characters that inhabit it look like they're on Broadway. He is ably abetted by Richard Pilbrow's exquisite lighting design.
But what his production truly serves to highlight is that Walton is a terrific actor's director. Not only has he assembled actors who seem perfectly cast for their roles -- the mark of all great directors -- he has guided some of them to the best work of their careers to date. In particular, Errico is flawless in her performance of the title role, being at once luminous, tough-minded, and deceptively romantic. It's Errico's job in the play to make us understand why every man in the room, in their own way, is in love with Candida, and she does so with a lovely, understated performance.
O'Reilly brings credibility to his old world adoration of his wife, coupled with the requisite vulnerability to make us feel for him when he begins to doubt that he can keep her love. By the same token, Underwood's endearing poetic excess is both charming and hilarious.
In smaller roles, Xanthe Elbrick comes damned near to stealing the play in her supporting role as the young typist who is secretly in love with Candida's husband, as the actress shows off an unexpected comic flair; the iconic Brian Murray as Candida's scoundrel father, a clownish capitalist, leavens the play with his comedy; and Josh Grisetti as a young curate brightens his scenes with a delightful bit of charm.
In all, this is a must-see production of a too-rarely performed play.