Be warned that G.B. Shaw's wordy comedy of manners lopes along for almost the entire first act before finally taking off. And then it really flies. It's set in 1909, in the plush home (artfully realized by designer Stephen Gifford) of a successful underwear retailer named Tarleton (Greg Mullavey), whose daughter Hypatia (Abigail Rose Solomon) has become engaged to a whiny aristocratic nerd (Orestes Arcuni). At first, the play totters under the weight of Shavian didactics: a plethora of chitchat about generational and class conflicts, the experience of aging and the liberation of women. The bright spot in this intermittently sleep-inducing stretch is Solomon's captivating turn as a sharp young gal chafing under the strictures of her gender; she's seconded in her charm by Maggie Peach, endearing as her wise, albeit mildly ditzy mother. Happily, Act 2 gets a lot livelier when an airplane piloted by a dashing young aviator (Nick Mennell) and a liberated lady acrobat (Molly Schaffer) crashes into the family greenhouse, followed by the clandestine entry of a pistol-packing gunman (David Clayberg) determined to do Tarleton in. The confrontation between the merchant and his would-be assassin forms the nub of the second act's considerable humor, and it's heightened further by the on-target performances of Mennell as Hypatia's new love interest and Schaffer as the latest object of Tarleton's philandering affections. By play's end, under Elina de Santos' direction, the production has redeemed its dullish beginnings, delivering up more than our ticket's worth of laughs. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 477-2055.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: March 21. Continues through April 26, 2009