By Brian Thomas
You Never Can Tell at the University of Utah’s Babcock Theatre easily transports audiences to a British seaside town of another era. And not just in the time and place that the play is set, but You Never Can Tell also harks back to a style of theatre from days gone by. Timing in at a lengthy 2 hours and 30 minutes, this play takes on the distinct British/Irish style of comedic theatre that George Bernard Shaw helped establish himself. A comedy of errors, so to speak, this play is driven by absurd characters, and ridiculous situations that are part of the charm of British theatre. While there are many things that could go wrong with an American production of a British play, director Alexandra Harbold has deftly maneuvered this production of You Never Can Tell to give it a genuine feeling of authenticity and liveliness.
You Never Can Tell tells of Dr. Valentine’s (Jesse Glick) love of Gloria Clandon (Morgan Werder), the eldest daughter of Mrs. Clandon (Mary-Helen Pitman), a feminist writer and author of a series of feminist publications. The antagonist to Dr. Valentine is not an individual or person per se, but outmoded social mores in a time of burgeoning feminist ideas of woman’s independence. Audiences will experience a short though comical treatise on the adaptations that have become necessary for a man to navigate through the waters of courtship. While older generations have floundered, Valentine believes he has flourished only to be sunk by his own status and invariable envy. Though written in 1897 by a man, Shaw composed a relatively modern piece of theatre in terms of gender issues.
The actors are set with quite the task in maintaining the dialect throughout the play. Additionally, You Never Can Tell can range from farcically whimsical to controlled. Payton Bowden and Lindsie Kongsore play the youngest Clandons, Philip and Dolly, and must maintain a certain level of vivacity that serves as a character foil nearly every character on stage. Glick plays a restrained Valentine, somewhat suspicious of the Clandons until he falls for the Gloria, elegantly played by Werder. While notable performances by Pitman as Mrs. Clandon, PJ Volk as Cramton, and others were given, Louis Hillegass IV’s performance of the archetypal wise and at times aloof butler/waiter was surprisingly enamoring.
The only element that nearly upstaged the performances was the stage itself. The set, designed by Halee Rasmussen, is well-crafted, sticking to mostly shades of black and white but punctuated with sparse bursts of color in the props and costumes of the characters. As the play moved between acts, the set also moved and danced to reiterate the whimsy of the moment. The costumes, designed by Kerstin Davis, were impressively elaborate at times and became seamlessly incorporated as a fantastic compliment to all of the other elements of this production.
You Never Can Tell is a play that is suitable for all ages, though I would recommend it for audiences 16 and up. This play is for those who seek an experience that harkens to a fantastic age of theatre and a classic comedy by one of the most well-known playwrights. By the end of the University of Utah’s You Can Never Tell, you may walk out and be surprised to find modern buildings and automobiles rather than the seaside breeze and elaborate parasols lining a pier. What a lovely evening of theatre!
The University of Utah Department of Theatre presents You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw
University of Utah Babcock Theater, 240 1500 E #206, Salt Lake City, UT 84112
November 10-19, 7:30 PM
General: $18, UofU Fac/Staff, Seniors (60+)/Military: $15, Students: $8.50 Free for Uof U students with valid student ID
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