Critic's Choice

'You Never Can Tell' at A Noise Within: A buoyant revival of George Bernard Shaw's comedy

“This family is no place for a father.” It's an emphatic statement of the sober argument that lies at the larky heart of “You Never Can Tell” at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena.

This buoyant, beautifully appointed take on George Bernard Shaw’s early comedy is a textbook study in sprightly Shavian playing.

First published in 1897, “Never” is Shaw’s response to Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” There are surface similarities in structure, characters and farcical complications of rising action.

But whereas Wilde trained his incomparable wit on self-justified satire, Shaw, as ever, had denser societal concerns. The still-trenchant topics include women’s equality, economic inequity and marital pragmatism versus romantic attraction.

Director Stephanie Shroyer understands that the secret to landing the ornate verbiage and ideological content is a light touch and absolute conviction of delivery. Her wonderful cast follows suit.

As proto-feminist Mrs. Clandon, who left a loveless marriage to raise her children in Madeira, company mainstay Deborah Strang is spot-on, archetypal yet naturalistic, and ever-reliable Apollo Dukakis brings vivid consternation to her animus Fergus Crampton.

Similarly, Jill Renner as eldest daughter Gloria carries nuanced conflicts beneath her poised veneer, well attuned to Kasey Mahaffy’s assured posturing as dentist Dr. Valentine.

If Erika Soto and Richy Storrs occasionally drive the pile as Clandon twins Dolly and Philip, their antics reap riotous dividends. Jeremy Rabb’s family solicitor is drolly enervated; Wesley Mann gives his philosophical hotel waiter a comic gravitas that recalls Eric Blore; and, as the late-inning deus ex Shaw-china, resonant Freddy Douglas all but steals the show.

Costumer Angela Balogh Calin outdoes herself with lavish period attire as character statement. Don Llewellyn’s versatile set earns its applause at the changes.

The results, both elegant and tickling, are as definitive as we are likely to see anytime soon. Devotees and those allergic to Shaw alike are in for an intelligent, thoroughly satisfying repast.

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“You Never Can Tell"

Where: A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.

When: Runs in repertory; see website for performance schedule.

Tickets: $44 and up

Info: (626) 356-3100, Ext. 1, or www.anoisewithin.org.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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