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Sep. 18, 2019 | Wednesday
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Shaw Review: Getting Married picks up in second act
Chick Reid as Alice (Mrs. Alfred) Bridgenorth and Graeme Somerville as Alfred Bridgenorth, Bishop of Chelsea, in Getting Married. (Emily Cooper/Supplied)

REVIEW BY MIKE KEENAN, SPECIAL.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet asks, “To be or not to be?”

George Bernard Shaw pens a similar query in Getting Married, as family and friends gather in the kitchen of Alice (Chick Reid) and Bishop Alfred Bridgenorth (Graeme Somerville) to celebrate the wedding of youngest daughter, Edith (Katherine Gauthier) to Cecil (Cameron Grant).

In Shaw’s 1911 protracted preface, he lampoons marriage with, “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

Troubled by the male-dominant marriage contract and wishing to liberalize divorce laws, Shaw did not foresee same-sex marriage nor multiple Trumpian pre-nuptial legal precautions.

In an often tedious first act, General “Boxer” Bridgenorth (Martin Happer) commits slapstick by knocking over wooden stools once too often, as Shaw’s characters express conflicting theories about what should be in the contract — medical, religious, financial provisions, etc.

They eventually agree that customary matrimony is much easier, with the possibility of divorce. We arrive full circle, but not without some merriment thanks to director Tanja Jacobs, who examines the idiosyncrasies of a cast of 12 would-be marital jurors. Unfortunately, the large number often succumbs to caricature portrayals with not enough development to go around the rather plain set.

Conflict occurs when Edith and her fiancé read pamphlets warning of the dangers of marriage. For example, a husband’s libel and consequent jailing, with his wife unable to divorce him and forced to rear children on her own. This precipitates hilarious dialogue, with a need for more.

Green grocer William Collins (Damien Atkins), characterizes his wife and marriage as: “No, ma’am: it (marriage) didn’t come natural. My wife had to break me into it. It came natural to her: she’s what you might call a regular old hen… She’s a natural born wife and mother. That’s why my children all ran away from home.”

Lesbia Grantham (Claire Jullien) rejects Boxer’s multiple proposals, and adds, “The one thing I never could stand is a great lout of a man smoking all over my house and going to sleep in his chair after dinner, and untidying everything. Ugh!” Later, “If I am to be a mother, I really cannot have a man bothering me to be a wife at the same time.”

Commenting on divorce law, Reginald Bridgenorth (Steven Sutcliffe) laments, “What’s the good of beating your wife unless there’s a witness to prove it afterwards? You don’t suppose a man beats his wife for the fun of it, do you? How could she have got her divorce if I hadn’t beaten her? Nice state of things, that!”

The action mercifully picks up steam in the second act with the flamboyant arrival of Mrs. George Collins (Marla McLean), a clairvoyant and femme fatale, appropriately outfitted by Shannon Lea Doyle in a blazing red dress. McLean displays attitude and watching her duel with the pompous St. John Hotchkiss (Ben Sanders) is the best part of the play, her dazzling power demonstrated at the end of the first act when mere proximity forces flowers to bloom.

* “Getting Married” by Bernard Shaw, directed by Tanja Jacobs, plays until Oct. 13 at the Royal George Theatre, 85 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake. shawfest.com or 1-800-511-7429.

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