Apparently, even before the advent of reality television finales, audiences could watch as a heroine debated the virtues of two men and chose between them. More gripping than any episode of The Bachelorette (not that we watch such things), George Bernard Shaw’s Candida depicts a wife deciding between the middle-aged husband who needs her and the young poet who worships her. It isn’t an entirely attractive choice. As the poet, Eugene Marchbanks (Danaher Dempsey), puts it to the husband, the Reverend James (David Tillistrand), “Why should she have to choose between a wretched little nervous disease like me, and a pig-headed parson like you?”
Shaw himself described the play as possessed of an “extraordinary ordinariness.” As the revival at Jean Cocteau Repertory makes plain, Shaw is right and wrong. It is in many ways a very ordinary domestic drama and rather bland slice of an East End clergyman’s life. However, it has a gentleness and depth of compassion unusual for Shaw and a fine role for an actress as the almost unbearably wise and loving Candida. In the part, Amanda Jones shines with the requisite maternal grace, but the production can’t quite lift the final confrontation beyond the artificiality and silliness of any rose ceremony.