Sean McNall, Lee Stark, and Michael Brusasco in Misalliance
(© Sam Hough)
Sean McNall, Lee Stark, and Michael Brusasco in Misalliance
(© Sam Hough)
When the straining-to-break-free-of-her-middle-class-shackles Hypatia Tarleton (Lee Stark) exclaims "It never stops -- talk, talk, talk, talk!" in George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, now being presented in a flawlessly acted, effervescent production by the Pearl Theatre Company, you can be sure the fervent complaint represents the prolific playwright having a laugh at his well-known inclination to dispense the snappy patter generously. Whether he's successful at defusing resistance entirely is debatable now that speed and action are the order of the day and contemporary audiences have decreasing tolerance for verbiage.

Still, even those who find the play talky must admire this sparkling production, directed with endless flair by Jeff Steitzer and acted expertly by Stark, Bradford Cover, Robin Leslie Brown, Dominic Cuskern, Dan Daily, Sean McNall Steven Boyer, Michael Brusasco, and Erika Rolfsrud, all of whom acquit themselves as Shavians to the manner and manor born.

The manor at which the characters are gathered during a deceptively calm summer day belongs to underwear magnate and voracious reader John Tarleton (a rightly boisterous Daily) and is presided over by his happily-domesticated wife (the motherly Brown). Less than happy is daughter Hypatia (Stark, a model Shavian heroine), who is weary of the non-stop chat and her supposed fiance, the spoiled and tantrum-prone Bentley Summerhays (a highly amusing Boyer).

Hypatia believe she has too long waited for "adventure to drop out of the sky, but it turns out she doesn't have to wait much longer when Joey Percival (Brusasco, a portrait of masculine bravado) -- with liberated lady acrobat Lina Szczepanowska (the hilariously uninhibited Rolfsrud) as his only passenger -- is forced to land his petrol-deprived plane on the property. The swashbuckling pair proceed to mingle with the Tarleton clan -- including the bored but suavely patrician Johnny Tarleton (Cover, savvy in designer Liz Covey's fair-weather suiting) -- as well as Lord Summerhays (Cuskern, who proves to be the foremost of these Shavians) and a man who identifies himself as John Brown (a comically bristling McNall), a lowly clerk who's arrived to shoot the elder Tarleton for perceived bourgeois wrongs.

That there will be an abundance of gab while the nine participants mix and mingle on Bill Clarke's notion of the Edwardian glass pavilion Shaw asks for isn't in question. Much of it, almost needless to say, is about subjects that were forever dear to Shaw's heart. Anyone who assumes there will be at least a reference to socialism is barking up the right tree. "It isn't bad language -- it's socialism," John Tarleton blurts when the supposed John Brown continues spouting abuse at the well-heeled Tarletons.

But lurking underneath Shaw's typical attack on conventional morality is a play with universal meaning: a look at how in all families, parents and child are always both instant allies and adversaries. Here, as Bentley and his dad vie for Hypatia's hand until Percival arrives and as figurative whip-snapping Szczepanowska causes several manly hearts to flutter, there's also much declared -- plenty of it cynical -- about love and money, subjects still up for discussion a century later.