If Kathleen F. Conlin's staging of George Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy isn't perfect, it's sure close. One "fine morning in October 1894," a self-satisfied local pastor, Morell (Mark Deakins), who also happens to be a socialist, finds himself competing for the affections of his wife, Candida (Willow Geer), with a callow, 18-year-old "nervous disease" poet named Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain). "Let your ideas compete with mine, then let her choose," the twitchy, arrogant young man challenges his senior. By the time Shaw's comedy has spun to its final, playful scene, everybody has lost something, and everybody has won something, and everybody, except Candida perhaps, has been charged with and convicted of presumptuousness and hypocrisy. The themes haven't aged a day, the dialects are pitch-perfect, yet this production hangs on the rare, meticulous brilliance of McClain's Marchbanks. His performance is a tour de force of physical comedy, a compendium of tics and an unceasing, and ceaselessly entertaining, dance of belligerent attacks and coy withdrawals, each rolling atop the next with split-second timing. Deakins' pastor is a glorious counter, a handsome rock of vigorous pomposity, an emblem of privilege too sure of his so-called magnanimous ideas, and ideals. The joy is in watching them crumble, and watching the pastor struggle with his own dignity. Grand turns also by Kate Hillinshead's love-smitten secretary, by Matthew Henerson as Candida's blustery father, and Gabriel Diani's foundling turned aristocrat. In the title role, the elegant and beautiful Geer is slightly mannered in Act 1 but finds her confidence soon after. Michael C. Smith's drawing-room set comes packed with fastidious detail, as do Sherry Linnell's costumes. Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Feb. 14 & 21, 3 p.m. and Feb. 26 & March 5, 8 p.m.); through March 8. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 7. Continues through March 8, 2009