Playwright: George Bernard Shaw. At: Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; www.remybumppo.org; $42.50-$52.50. Runs through: Jan. 6
You may argue that George Bernard Shaw couldn't write a frivolous play if he'd triedbut he did try, once. After viewing Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, the brainy author of incisive social commentaries took up the challenge of composing a domestic farce unencumbered by serious topics and chewy contemplations. He didn't fully achieve his goal, but his efforts are commendable, nevertheless.
As in Wilde's play, his plot is premised on the question of parentage: Eighteen years earlier, the progressive-minded Mrs. Clandon abandoned her insufferably reactionary husband, taking the children with her. This expatriate household has now returned to England, lodging at a seaside resort, where the family solicitor has been summoned for the purpose of revealing to the Clandon heirs the history of their unconventional upbringing. Unbeknown to them (but quickly disclosed) is that their estranged sire dwells in this same village, as well as a penniless and fickle-minded bachelor who promptly falls in love with the emancipated Miss Clandon.
So far, so goodthe conflict of rationality and romance always makes for entertaining intergender repartee in the course of their contradictions' ultimate reconciliation. Also keeping the dramatic tone appropriately amoral are a duo of irrepressible younger siblings who facilitate mischief like the Harlequin and Columbine they impersonate at a masquerade ball. The literary habits of a long career prove too strong for Shaw, however, compelling him to inject a discussion of child custody laws in operation at the time, along with some remarks on a restrictive decorum that prevents even fathers and sons from breaching class distinctions in public.
Director Shawn Douglass and the Remy Bumppo ensemble rally behind Shaw's intent, maintaining a crisp and sprightly pace that never slips into slapstick mugging. Representing the voices of authority are Elaine Rivkin and Doug Hendel, acquitting themselves admirably as the incompatible progenitors, while Greg Matthew Anderson and Eliza Stoughton make a suitably pixilated pair of lovers. That said, C. Jaye Miller and Alex Weisman's irreverent tag-team sallies command attention whenever they appear, but are no match for the legendary Dale Benson, playing a waiter grown wise with age, nor Rob Glidden's lex-ex-machina cameo as his upstart offspring.