‘The Philanderer’ a classic battle of the sexes

LONG BEACH – George Bernard Shaw’s “The Philanderer” opened  at the Long Beach Playhouse’s mainstage theatre last weekend. “George Bernard Shaw wrote The Philanderer in 1893, but British censorship laws at the time prevented its production until 1902,” said Andrew Vonderschmitt, executive and artistic director for the Long Beach Playhouse. “It was included in Shaw’s Plays Unpleasant trilogy which included Widowers’ Houses and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Shaw wrote the three plays to raise awareness of social problems of the time.”

The play’s plot revolves around Leonard and two women who are actively pursuing him.

“Julia is a ‘modern’ woman, clinging to romantic attachment, despite her professed progressive views, while Grace is a genuinely liberated widow who doesn’t resort to Julia’s histrionic wiles,” said Vonderschmitt.

What’s a philanderer to do? Further complicating matters are the fathers of Julia and Grace. The first a conventional fellow who thinks he’s dying, and the other, is a theater critic flummoxed by youth.

Leonard’s attempts to extricate himself from Julia culminate in a witty and blazing battle of the sexes as well as generations.

“Although written 121 years ago, the themes are timeless and are particularly relevant today,” says Vonderschmitt. “Proof of that is its recent run on Broadway and its inclusion in two Shaw festivals later this year.”

Directing this production of “The Philanderer” is Playhouse veteran Elaine Herman.

“The Philanderer” opened last weekend and will be presented until June 21. Tickets are $24 for adults, $21 for seniors and $14 for students with ID. Tickets can be purchased online at lbplayhouse.org or by calling (562) 494-1014.

Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Below is an interview with director Elaine Herman conducted by artistic director Andrew Vonderschmitt.

AV: Elaine Herman! It’s an honor to talk with you today and to have your considerable talent and expertise guiding the Playhouse production of The Philanderer.

EH: How fortunate I am to have this opportunity to direct a rarely-performed play written by the illustrious G.B. Shaw; especially one based on his personal experience!

Did you know that as a young man, Shaw was simultaneously having sexual affairs with two women, a widow somewhat older than himself and a slightly younger actress? Both were highly temperamental with the widow being very possessive.

A confrontational scene ensued and Shaw used its resulting emotional fallout as the basis for “The Philanderer” which received its first public performance in 1902.

AV: It’s one of those plays for which the title isn’t vague or elusive in its intent. What might we infer from the title?

EH: Shaw defines a philanderer as “...a man who is strongly attracted to women. He flirts with them, makes them fall in love with him, but will not commit himself to any permanent relationship with them, and often retreats at the last moment if his suit is successful---loves them but loves himself more---is too cautious, too fastidious, ever to give himself away.”

The art of live theatre is telling that “Philanderer’s” story with authenticity and depth; to be honest and deep with a character that is neither. We are fortunate to have a cast worthy of the task.

AV: Clearly the play takes on social issues of the time - some of which seem so familiar still. Give us some perspective on the era.

EH: Demands for women’s rights and discussions about the role of women in society was happening in England and the United States.

Relevant to the play is the influence of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” which was published in 1879. In it he espoused the belief that “a woman cannot be herself in modern society, since it is an exclusively male society with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.”

Besides lampooning, the struggle for equal rights, marriage, divorce and English courtship, Shaw makes fun of medical science and the generation gap whereas advanced ideas are pitted against old-fashioned ideas of right and wrong---themes still relevant today.

AV: So can you tell us a little about the cast you’ve assembled?

EH: Our cast is simply wonderful. We have a mix of Playhouse veterans, like Ken Dalena, who makes his second appearance here. And a noteworthy coincidence: five of our cast members - Cort Huckabone, Doug Seagraves, Sara Green, Amara Phelps and Alexander Shewchuk - have appeared in various Playhouse productions of Shakespeare. Now they share a stage to perform Shaw. Isn’t that wonderful?

Three new actors debut with us, they are: Darcy Porter-Phillips a graduate of PCPA Theatrefest and alumna of San Diego Junior Theatre; Nicole Herzog studied at UC Santa Cruz, UCI and is now studying Improvisation at Second City; and Andy Gerges has performed in Oleanna, Orpheus Descending, and Twelfth Night and in various short films.

AV: That mix of returning and new actors is part of our success formula here at the Playhouse. We’re a family of artists that constantly reaches out for new talent and influences to bring into the mix. Final thoughts?

EH: I also thank our crew and your staff and volunteers. The set, sound, lighting and costumes transform the stage into 1893 London. Everyone! Please buy a ticket to come and see what our talented cast, crew, staff and volunteers have done, it’s nothing short of brilliant!



Published: May 29, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 07