Chicago Theater Review: YOU NEVER CAN TELL (Remy Bumppo)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 27, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

A SKIRMISH OF WIT THAT CAN ONLY BE SHAW

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo’s YOU NEVER CAN TELL at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoIn 1896, George Bernard Shaw planned to beat Oscar Wilde at his own playful plotting and acerbic wit, so he wrote his answer to the recently successful The Importance of Being Earnest. Based on how often Shaw’s You Never Can Tell—which has a title suggesting a plot packed with surprise—is not revived, we know how well that went. Still, Shaw’s comedy, one of the better-known offerings in his “Plays Pleasant” collection, is in fact successfully serious.

Shaw can’t help it: Ideas will out. They transform his characters as much as Oscar’s wit shapes his silly subjects. The title’s implication that chance causes all is belied by an earnest and driven drama, here impeccably revived by director Shawn Douglass, making this production yet another glowing feat from the ever-polished Remy Bumppo Theatre Company.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo’s YOU NEVER CAN TELL at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoFor the last 18 years the free-thinking Mrs. Clandon (sprightly Elaine Rivkin), her feminist-minded elder daughter Gloria (supple Eliza Stoughton), her silly soubrette of a younger daughter Dolly (C. Jaye Miller) and her twit brother Philip (Alex Weisman) have lived in Madeira. Returning to a seaside resort in England, this iconoclastic clan encounters and exposes the father whose brutish behavior ended the marriage in a separation that became an exile.

Reunited with his abandoned loved ones, irascible, 57-year-old Crampton (Doug Hendel) is appalled at their independence of mind, which he misconstrues as insubordination. This pillar of conservative respectability claims control of his supposedly insolent children. A custody battle, more a clash of concepts in upbringing (or “downbringing,” as Crampton sees it), is on.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo’s YOU NEVER CAN TELL at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoMeanwhile, proudly rational and opposed to the thralldom of marriage, proto-feminist Gloria finds herself ambushed into romance with Valentine (Greg Matthew Anderson), an eloquent dentist and inveterate charmer whose experience in love Gloria both resents and requires. (Valentine disarms her with his self-deflating confessions: Of course he’s a fortune hunter, he admits: How could she be expected to live off of his meager earnings?)

Their hot-and-cold, Beatrice-and-Benedict tug of hearts is as delightful an emotional counterpoint as Shaw can invent. Of course, for Shaw the Life Force or “duel of sex” (as he puts it here) is the power of evolution to make opposites attract so nature can profit from the chemistry. It must and shall win out. Wryly commenting on what fools these mortals be is Dale Benson as William, a whimsically philosophical waiter who, well, never can tell…

Douglass gets the chemistry endearingly right in this four-act romp. He happily ends this 140-minute feast of fools with a waltz that seamlessly reconciles Shaw’s delightful differences. By evening’s end we’ve enjoyed a delightfully illustrated lecture in the power of love to subdue to its rule even the most contrary characters, the imperative of change to keep families fresh, and the importance of seeing Shaw.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo’s YOU NEVER CAN TELL at Greenhouse Theater in Chicago

photos by Johnny Knight

You Never Can Tell
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater Center
scheduled to end on January 6, 2013
for tickets call 773-404-7736 or visit http://www.remybumppo.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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