Remy Bumppo finds a grand tale in Shaw’s ‘You Never Can Tell’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 26, 2012 8:24PM
Greg Matthew Anderson as Valentine and Eliza Stoughton as Gloria in the Remy Bumppo production of "You Never Can Tell."
‘You Never Can TelL’
When: Through Jan. 6
Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 404-7336; www.greenhousetheater.org
Updated: December 28, 2012 6:07AM
Any play that begins in a dentist’s chair, and at the same time manages to generate the most buoyant laughter, is unquestionably worthy of attention. So take note of George Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell,” the delicious comedy of manners (and much, much more) that was penned in 1896, received its short-lived London debut in 1899 and hasn’t been produced in Chicago for 30 years.
Why so neglected? Beats me. But the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s effervescent, fast-moving revival of the play — directed by Shawn Douglass (who staged such a winning revival of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of being Earnest” several seasons back), and featuring a tremendously gifted and attractive cast that knows precisely how to bite into Shaw’s demanding language and delight in his arguments — might well reverse its fortunes.
If nothing else, this production should serve as just the latest reminder that Shaw was a man far ahead of his time, or perhaps just uncannily insightful about the trajectory of the eternal battle between the sexes.
As a program note suggests, “You Never Can Tell” was Shaw’s rapid-fire competitive nod to Wilde’s hugely successful “Earnest.” The men’s styles and philosophies may have been different, but both were masters of the English language and the art of acerbic humor, and their attention to matters of class, gender and the nature of urban life versus all that is outside it were not terribly different.
But, back to the dentist’s chair. The “ivory snatcher” (as Shaw dubs dentists) is Valentine (the ever-peerless Greg Matthew Anderson, as adept at Shaw as he proved to be with Wilde). A bright, handsome, but financially challenged young man, he has set up his practice in a seaside resort town where he charges a flat rate for his services, and where his wealthy landlord, Crampton (a wonderfully gruff but understated Doug Hendel), is on his case about back rent.
Valentine’s first patient is Dolly (C. Jaye Miller in a smile-inducing Chicago debut), the unstoppably talkative, happily frivolous daughter of Mrs. Clandon (the expertly restrained Elaine Rivkin), a fervent feminist and proponent of “The New Woman.” For the past 18 years, Clandon has raised all three of her children — including her oldest daughter and adherent, Gloria (Eliza Stoughton, lovely, nuanced and commanding in both her silences and outbursts), and Dolly’s swishy twin brother, Philip (the enthusiastic Alex Weisman) — without ever informing them of their father’s identity. And this is beginning to grate on all of them.
The apple cart is upended when Valentine falls instantly head-over-heels in love with Gloria and she, ill-equipped to deal with matters of the heart, finds herself at war with both him and herself. At the same time, without giving too much away here, it can be said that the Clendons’ father also feels cheated in many ways, and is upended first by a dental session, and then by his initial contact with his grown children.
Adding greatly to the fun here is veteran Dale Benson, as a hotel waiter with as strong a grasp of social class as Alfred P. Doolittle. Rob Glidden plays his ridiculous but successful son, and Peter A. Davis is Mrs. Clandon’s long-ago suitor.
True to the play’s title, you just never can tell when it comes to human behavior, except that, more likely than not, it will be full of contradictions and sure to generate laughter.