George Bernard Shaw was a socialist vegetarian with feminist leanings and a strong sense of social responsibility. He was also known for his quick wit, brought equally to his writing and to his public life. Portland Center Stage's production of Misalliance showcases both Shaw's humor and his concern with issues of class and exploitation, via a setup that simultaneously exploits and parodies the human fascination with "mating games."
Broadly, the play deals with the Tarletons, a wealthy business family. Patriarch John Tarleton (Kenneth Albers) made a fortune selling underwear, propelling his family from near poverty to the upper echelons of British "new money." His headstrong daughter Hypatia (Amanda Soden) is engaged to marry the aristocratic Bentley Summerhays (or "Bunny," played by Ben Steinfield), a high-strung, unlikeable young man who seems to represent the last gasps of an overextended gene pool. The dissatisfied Hypatia is marrying Bunny for lack of better options; she vociferously wishes for something exciting to happen.
Something exciting happens at the end of the first act: An airplane carrying two romantic passengers crashes into the house. Act Two also introduces Julius Baker (Darius Pierce), a bitter young clerk who seeks revenge for John Tarleton's treatment of his mother years ago.
A contemporary audience will find little to be shocked at here (in fact, certain dated biases are milked for laughs—notions about the role of women, for example, come across as quaint, obscuring how genuinely progressive Shaw's approach to the "woman question" was), but the text provides a few insights that are as relevant today as in Shaw's time. It's telling, for example, how friction between the aristocracy and the moneyed business class disappears in the face of an onslaught from a poor, socialist doctrine-spouting outsider (played wonderfully by Pierce, who handily steals every scene he's in).
Misalliance showcases Shaw's ability to moralize while he entertains, and director Chris Coleman never loses sight of both sides of that equation—resulting in a production that is equal parts thought provoking and pure, goofy fun.