Not a soap opera, nor a tabloid story; but the classic ‘Candida’

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Melinda Page Hamilton and Zeb Newman in "Candida," previewing Thursday and Friday, and opening Saturday, Aug. 13, at Malibu Stage Co. Photo by Natascha Unkart

George Bernard Shaw’s classic turn of the century play opens at Malibu Stage Co.

By Ryan O’Quinn/ Special to The Malibu Times

One woman must choose between two men. One man she is in love with. The other needs her. It’s not a soap opera or even the cover story of a tabloid magazine. It is the classic turn of the century play, “Candida,” by George Bernard Shaw at the Malibu Stage Co.

The local theatre’s summer season continues this weekend with the opening of Shaw’s comedy directed by Brendon Fox, who is making his Malibu Stage Co. directing debut following a successful seven-year stint at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego as the associate director working with Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien.

Malibu Stage Co. producer Jackie Bridgeman said the company is always looking for the top talent and they sought Fox.

“I had heard of his reputation and am always looking for good directors,” Bridgeman said of Fox in a telephone interview earlier this week. “We spoke about different pieces for him to direct and he felt he wanted to do [“Candida”].

Fox said the play was ideal for a theatre like Malibu Stage because the audience is drawn into the onstage antics.

“I love the intimacy of this space,” Fox said. “You are only four rows away at any point. You get to see the costumes up close. You are right there in the room. When I saw the space I knew this play and this theatre would be a fit.”

Fox said he had seen a New York production of Oren Safdie’s “Private Jokes, Public Places” and he and the Malibu playwright had stayed in touch.

“I really felt flattered when [Bridgeman and Safdie] called me,” Fox said. “They were very enthusiastic about me coming to Malibu and I was excited. I was very appreciative of how much this theatre is interested in great works overall. It’s also great for me to say ‘I will be in Malibu doing Shaw.'”

“Candida” was originally published in 1898 in a volume titled “Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant.” It is the story of a love triangle between the title character, her husband and a young poet, both whom adore her. Candida (played by Jen Dede) is the wife of a Socialist clergyman in the Church of England named James Morell (played by Jeff Woodman) who is extremely busy with his schedule and the business of the church. The other is the young poet Eugene Marchbanks (played by Zeb Newman) who is the antithesis of Morell’s rigidity and conservative nature. Candida is attracted to both men and their respective qualities for different reasons.

Fox said Shaw is just as alive and relevant now as he was at the turn of the century. He said the play is not too heavy despite the subject matter and resonates well with all audiences.

“I think it’s our job to fulfill Shaw’s potential,” Fox said. “He’s funny, he’s smart and there’s no dust on the play. With some playwrights you have to work to find out what they’re doing. Audiences respond to Shaw because he reminds them that they are smart, he respects them and he never forgets his sense of humor.”

The cast has been in rehearsals six days a week for about three weeks. Most agree this is a quick rehearsal period for a Shaw play, but they jumped at the opportunity to come to Malibu to do this play.

“It’s great here,” said Jeff Woodman who temporarily relocated from New York. “When you are used to being in New York … rehearsing in a canyon, this is great. You can see the horizon. I remember when I first came over that road (Malibu Canyon) I could smell the ocean and then I saw it.”

“There is something inspiring about being in Malibu,” said Bree Elrod who plays Prossie. “You are inspired by just looking around you.”

Actor Zeb Newman credited the drive through Malibu Canyon as the perfect transition out of the city to get focused on a rehearsal.

“This is a good show to do at the end of the summer,” Newman said. “The play itself sort of forces you to think about the past season and think about the upcoming season.”

“Candida” previews tonight and tomorrow night and opens this Saturday, Aug. 13.

The play runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through Sept. 4 at Malibu Stage Co. located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. Tickets are $20. More information and tickets can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998.