Shaw's 'Candida' ponders love in constancy and chaos

By Leigh E. Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 19, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat



George Bernard Shaw boasted almost a century ago that while most people write unconventional plays, he had written the conventional play. And just in time for the advent of spring, the Arizona Theatre Company presents Shaw's comedy which ponders the meaning of love - "Candida."

The humor in "Candida" revolves around the interminably frustrating and baffling interactions between the sexes. Candida Morell, the wife of the respectable Reverend James Morell, finds herself caught between two men when she and the Reverend invite a Bacchanalian poet, Eugene Marchbanks, into their home. Eugene openly declares his love for her, and the constancy saturating the Morells' marriage turns to chaos.

Although "Candida" first premiered in 1898, Shaw's insight regarding love still holds true today. Actress Robin Goodrin Nordli, who plays the Reverend's wife in the ATC production, concurs. "It's still very timely, it's very contemporary. I think it's very liberal."

Perhaps Shaw's timelessness stems from the fact that he never directly answers the very question he poses: "What is the meaning of love?" Nordli says, "He leaves it up to you. There's all these options." According to the Greeks, there are three types of love: erotic, platonic, and agapic (divine love between man and God), but Shaw's play - involving a reverend (the savior of the soul) and a poet (the knower of the heart) - explores the latter two.

In fact, even though the locus of attention and the catalyst of events is Candida herself, Nordli says, "It's a play about all [three] of them. He's very balanced in that. The poet and the parson both take a journey. Nothing really happens during the play. Events take place internally."

This concept, found in works by authors like Jane Austin, E.M. Forster and the Bronte sisters, permeated Shaw's era - one doused in social graces and gender etiquette. Shaw's humor lies in the manners and pleasantries of everyday life. According to Nordli, "The only time things falls apart is when people aren't talking."

Shaw addresses this agonizingly simple lesson in the play, mostly through his female lead who learns to value what people want and need from life. It is her openness and frankness that has led many to deem Candida one of Shaw's wisest and strongest female characters. Shaw himself originally viewed her as a "Madonna," but, like his parson and his poet, he came to see her in a more down-to-earth light ten years after penning the play.

Nordli, whose theatrical mainstay is Shakespeare, enjoys portraying such a strong female character, and she praises many of Shaw's women. "He writes really fabulous women. They are very smart, and they are usually more on top of the situation than the men are. A lot of times in Shakespeare, the men are more fleshed out than the women."

Candida's lesson, Nordli believes, is to "be open to what you need in life and be open to talking about it. [She is] very smart [and] very open - maybe more open than we are [today]. Everything you need is right there."