A cool ocean breeze blows through David Staller's production of Bernard Shaw's comedy You Never Can Tell, now being produced by the Pearl Theatre Company and Staller's Gingold Theatrical Group, an organization best known for the popular monthly Project Shaw reading series. Staller's light and airy hand is perfect for You Never Can Tell, Shaw's seventh comedy, not one of his best-known works, and the Pearl's acting ensemble brings it to sweet life at the PTC Performance Space.
It's easy to imagine You Never Can Tell being controversial in its day, 1897. Eighteen years before the play begins, Mrs. Margaret Clandon (Robin Leslie Brown), having separated from her husband, fled England for the Portuguese archipelago known as Madeira, with her three young children in tow. In the ensuing years, Mrs. Clandon supported her family by writing a series of popular books that brought her minor renown. As the play begins, she has returned to England with her children, Dolly (Emma Wisniewski), Philip (Ben Charles), and Gloria (Amelia Pedlow), now grown, for a holiday.
The precocious Dolly and Philip and the headstrong Gloria are unaware of the identity of their father. This being a farce, they discover him speedily — the cantankerous Fergus Crampton (Bradford Cover) — and end up inviting him to lunch. Meanwhile, Gloria has become the object of affection for Mr. Valentine (Sean McNall), a dentist who happens to be one of Crampton's tenants. Naturally, chaos of the Shavian variety ensues.
Staller's enjoyable, swift staging benefits from performances that understand the material's delicate frothiness. The actors don't overplay or chew the scenery; as a result, the characters feel surprisingly like humans (unlike in other productions of the play that I've seen). To single one actor out would be detrimental to the Pearl's mission of creating a resident company. They're all top-notch.
This production also features some of the prettiest designs seen at the Pearl in recent memory, with a stage-filling, summery, Victorian seaside set by Harry Feiner, sumptuous period costumes by Barbara A. Bell, and attractive lighting by Stephen Petrilli. In a directorial flourish, the lighting changes for brief moments when two characters connect, either romantically or psychologically. This kind of touch rarely works, though here it does, and a lot better than it should.
If you're a Shaw fan or completist, now's your chance to see a delightful production of a play that you may have forgotten about.