The Philanderer
Reviewed by David Kashimba

“The fickleness of the women I love is only equaled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me,” says a professional philanderer (or womanizer for those of you who feel England and the U.S. are separated by a common language), in George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer. Now playing at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre, the production of one of Shaw’s earliest plays, is a testament to director Barbara Oliver’s artistic ability to bring the best out of every play produced at Aurora.

Just as a great concert pianist touches the composer’s soul as her fingers touch the keyboard, Oliver finds Shaw’s soul in this production, and with an excellent cast, brings out Shaw’s cutting wit as well as his deep concern for relationships between men and women.

Though the focus of the production is on a man, who wishes to love many women but never marry one, many of the nuances of a modern emancipated woman, explored in other Shaw plays such as Candida, enrich this production as well. One irony emerges from another as members of an “Ibsen” club discuss a new gender of woman who is not “womanly” yet very much a woman. The subtleties are so subtle that you’re never quite sure what gender each character has crossed over to or if they have crossed at all. But the very fact that this play was written in the 1890s makes us wonder if there is anything new in heaven and earth, or as Shaw once said, “Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.”

This production of The Philanderer is incredibly rich with Shaw’s humor, cutting irony and humanity. It’s obvious that everyone involved, in bringing this Aurora Theatre production to life, took the time to get to know Shaw the man as well as Shaw the playwright. Only then can the multiple levels of Shaw breathe freely, and we the audience can laugh at the characters made fun of while empathizing with their plight in life. In this way we come to know this playwright who wrote: “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” There is no indifference in this production. Every character will engage you.

For tickets and information call (510) 843-4822.

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