Provo — Although I know George Bernard Shaw‘s plays, I was unfamiliar with Misalliance before attending Brigham Young University’s production directed by Barta Lee Heiner. This show is a romantic comedy set in the house of John Tarleton, who lives in Surrey, England, and takes place on the 31st of May, 1909. In the beginning we learn of the engagement of Bentley Summerhays to Hypatia Tarleton. Hypatia, sick of brawn and no brain, has settled for Bentley who is all brain and no brawn. Hypatia however is longing for adventure to “drop out of the sky,” which it certainly does just before intermission. This is a show of many romances, all of which are on the comical side, and a change in the times. Airplanes, assassination attempts, lies, intrigue, and proposals are what lay in store for audiences.
The action starts with the introduction of Johnny Tarleton (played by Gabe Spencer) and Bentley Summerhays (played by Bradley Mackay). I did have a hard time understanding what was being said at first due to dialects and a fast paced dialogue, but after a while my ear adjusted and I was able to understand what they were saying. A little more articulation in the first scene would have made this adjustment happen more quickly. However, I was pulled into the strong personalities of the characters.
Bentley is a man of intellect, but often cries and throws fits to get what he wants, causing the women of the house to scurry to his aid, and leaving the other men looking like bullies. Mackay did a horribly, wonderful job portraying Bentley. In fact Mackay did such a perfect portray that I almost had a visceral reaction. One of my favorite moments happened when Bentley was calling Johnny a swine, and the more he shrieked “Swine!” the more he sounded like a squealing pig. Mackay remains true to his original character choices, but he still allows Bentley to change as needed, and transform by the end of the play.
Hypatia Tarleton, played by Savanah Smith, was another pivotal character, as several romances center around her. She wants a man who doesn’t just look good, but can keep up with her intellectually. For a woman who complains about everyone talking all of the time, it’s ironic that a man being able to have a conversation with her is her biggest desire in a husband. She’s willing to settle on Bentley, even though she thinks kissing him is like kissing a baby. I loved watching her as a new romantic interest was introduced.
Another character that I enjoyed was Lina Szczepanowska, played by Collette McCusker. The moment she walked onto stage she owned the stage because she is such a strong character, both in her physicality and personality. Every character on stage is drawn to her, which leads to some delightfully awkward moments. I especially enjoyed her lecture to the rest of the characters about how a woman can be strong. She was a great foil to Bentley.
There was a moment where I questioned some of the blocking decisions. It occurred in the first act when Mr. Tarleton (Ben Hess) and Lord Summerhays (Joel Applegate) were talking, and Hypatia and Bentley were in the room. I could tell Hypatia was trying not to seem too intrigued by their discussion, but I didn’t understand Bentley’s decision to wander about the set looking at different props. It felt awkward and without purpose.
The set was very nicely designed by Doug Ellis. Stage legs were composed of brickwork and green ironwork that created a frame around the rest of the set. Wicker furniture, copious potted greenery, and vases of flowers created a conservatory-like air, while large decorative rugs covered the floor. The overall effect was that of a wealthy and comfortable Edwardian home.
Costumes, designed by Rebekah Jackson, were well thought out. I loved that Hypatia’s gown reflected a young woman who was fashionable and moving forward with the times. I loved the cohesive and still varied array of the men’s costuming. My only complaint about the costuming is so small it’s ridiculously nit-picky, but the sweater vest worn by Johnny Tarleton seemed a tad too modern with the brand emblem embroidered over the heart. Yet, I quickly lost track of the embroidered logo for the lovely details of lace and buttons of the Tarleton women’s dresses.
The makeup design by Michaela Fordham was overall pleasing. Although the venue was a small black box theatre, the makeup was not overdone. In fact, I would have preferred a bit more aging on Mrs. Tarleton (played by Jasmine Fullmer), as she looked too young when compared with her children. This is addressed in the script with Mr. Tarleton’s discussion of women trying to appear younger than they are by wearing auburn wigs and making themselves up. So it would be appropriate for Mrs. Tarleton to appear young, but maybe with a few more wrinkles since she does complain about them.
Overall, I highly enjoyed the production of Misalliance. I felt that casting was well done, the characters wonderfully presented, and the set and costumes beautifully executed. The venue of an intimate black box theatre was an appropriate choice, as it made me feel like a part of the craziness. There were audience members clapping and cheering for different characters and their final actions. I feel that this script was a perfect choice for the audience demographic. I highly recommend this production for a fun date night or an outing with friends. Teenagers may also find this to be an enjoyable production to watch. I’m excited to have discovered a new script to love. Thank you BYU theatre for introducing me to Misalliance, and for making me fall in love with it.