The Philanderer

03/10/2009 2:30 PM |

It sucks and it’s not fair, but loving someone gives them a lot of power over you. It’s as tough now as it was in 1893 to be independent of someone and in love with them at the same time. In this little-performed early work, George Bernard Shaw exposes the real-life roadblocks to the high-minded social philosophizing espoused by his Henrik Ibsen-obsessed contemporaries: freedom and equality are more complicated than the right to smoke a cigar in public. Theater Ten Ten’s production of The Philanderer maintains the piece’s stifled, period-specific atmosphere while highlighting the messy human truths that still fuel the premises of The Pickup Artist and Tool Academy.

A portrait of be-muttonchopped Norwegian Ibsen scowls down at his eponymous social club, a reminder to the club’s Victorian patrons never to act like "manly men" or "womanly women." Especially not inside the club — flagrant disregard for the equality of the club’s self-styled Hedda Gablers is grounds for expulsion, as are catty feuds over a fellow member’s attention. These ideals are as troubling to the fictional Ibsen Club’s members as they are to Shaw. He creates satirical voices for both new and old viewpoints in broad strokes: the rakish Ibsenist philosopher Charteris (Julian Stetkevych), stuffy old Colonel Craven (Greg Horton) and Julia (Tatiana Gomberg), who, despite grappling with new ideals, is desperate for a man. Unsurprisingly, no one’s doing that great a job of living up to their espoused philosophies, as Shaw eagerly points out.

This tension is especially difficult for Gomberg’s Julia, who, before the action takes place, espoused the "new ideas of the younger generation" and refused a marriage proposal from Charteris on the grounds that it would strip her of her freedom. When we see her, freedom’s the last thing she wants. Julia’s pouting and stomping and throwing fits: her man’s in love with a real "new woman," the bizarrely level-headed Grace Tranfield (Anne Gill). Gomberg easily could have played Julia the Spoiled Idiot, but she imbues the character with real turmoil and sorrow. This is clearest in a poignant scene between Julia and Dr. Paramore (Mickey Ryan), in which the actors artfully transform both characters from laughable stereotypes into very real, very lonely people.

The object of Julia’s obsession is less three-dimensional. Stetkevych is charming and very watchable as the cad Leonard Charteris, and he injects a huge amount of energy into the staid drawing room and Ibsen club. He doesn’t push far beyond an outsized caricature of what a Victorian dandy is supposed to be, though, and sometimes crosses the line into mawkish flamboyance. He’s got great timing, though.

As do Horton and Duncan Hazard as the representatives of an earlier way of thinking: Horton as pompous old coot Colonel Craven and Hazard as the slightly more open-minded critic Joseph Cuthbertson. The audience can feel confident being carried through the challenging material by these veterans. Barrie Kreinik is charming as hardcore Ibsenist Sylvia, and Anne Gill is reliable and competent as the widow Grace Tranfield. David Fuller’s set design carves close Victorian quarters from the black box space below Park Avenue’s Christian Church: the audience, often seated in the middle of the scene, can’t help but feel that sense of stifling restriction that Ibsen reacted against. Theater Ten Ten is known for the quality of its small productions, and The Philanderer is just that — a quality, thought-provoking, entertaining production of a fine and often-overlooked play.

At Theater Ten Ten, Fri, Sat at 8pm, Sun at 3pm through March 15