Saturday, September 14, 2013

You Never Can Tell

Watching the delightful production of George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell being presented by the Pearl Theatre Company and the Gingold Theatrical Group, I had to periodically remind myself that I was not watching a play by Oscar Wilde. Following The Importance of Being Earnest by two years, You Never Can Tell shares its cheerful skewering of societal mores, its witty dialogue, and even a character declaiming fervently, "On my honor I am in earnest." The Importance of Being Earnest is probably the better play; You Never Can Tell has occasional languors, and Shaw's laugh/minute ratio doesn't quite equal Wilde's (whose does?). On the other hand, Shaw's politics are more interesting; for example, written in 1897, You Never Can Tell both teases and respects feminism.

What's most important is that You Never Can Tell is great fun. It includes romance, a family reunion, a costume ball, dentistry, and an entirely satisfying denouement, courtesy of an attorney-ex-machina. As directed (and lightly adapted) by David Staller, it moves along at a good clip (except for those languors) and lands its laughs with joyful precision. Some parts are a little overdirected and cutesy, but it's a small fault, and Staller's use of music and dance to sail through scenery changes is charming. (The scenery itself is a fabulous example of the wonders that a smart and tasteful designer, Harry Feiner in this case, can create on a limited budget.)

A show like this relies heavily on its cast to navigate that thin line between heightened acting and overacting. Under Staller's leadership, the Pearl stalwarts and non-Pearl-ians all acquit themselves energetically, earnestly (!), and with excellent timing. Particularly impressive are Sean McNail (who is always particularly impressive), Amelia Pedlow (who brings a sincerity to her role of reluctant lover that adds poignancy to the humor), and Zachary Spicer (who is perfect in a small but pivotal role).

I've said this before, and I hope I get the opportunity to say this again: The aptly named Pearl is a shining jewel in the New York theatre scene.

(2nd row center; press ticket)

No comments: