CANDIDA’S CONFLICTED MINISTER: A Role to Relish at Classic Theatre

Jeffrey Aarles and Dana Fradkin play a conflicted husband and wife in the warm and witty Shaw classic Candida, playing at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival until August 13. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

For Toronto performer Jeffrey Aarles, who returns to the Classic Theatre Festival stage in Perth this summer to take on the role of the conflicted minister Rev. James Morell in Shaw’s warm and witty classic, Candida, playing the role a second time around has been a very different experience from the first.

Candida, which plays until August 13 at 54 Beckwith Street East, has won warm reviews from theatre reviewers and audiences alike for its take on Victorian notions of love and marriage, and also the unique characterization with which Shaw infuses each role he creates.

Aarles first played the role at Toronto’s Shaw in the City series, directed by Laurel Smith. Teaming up with Smith again in Perth has been a great experience, though, as he explains, also a new one. “A play is all about human interactions: change the humans, and you change the interactions,” he says. “Add to that the different venue, different stage management, different designers, different everything. A play is a communal effort. It isn’t like a painting that is completed and framed and remains more or less static for the course of its existence; every production is blessed with many minds, and will emphasize different elements of what the playwright consciously or unconsciously included.”

Aarles is especially fond of Shaw’s language, full of wit and wisdom. “What’s most amazing about Shaw is that he finds ways to make the political the personal for his characters,” he says. “He wraps his words around ways that people see the world, and he lets those perspectives be presented honestly, and without it feeling at all pedantic, and he somehow manages to do this while retaining great respect for each of them. Shaw creates a framework that doesn’t allow for ‘bad guys’.”

Indeed, Aarles continues, in a Shaw play like Candida, “Everyone is honest to his or her own standards, whatever the other characters (or the audience) might think of them. Everyone is granted their dignity and a kind of honesty, even if we consider the character a total hypocrite. This is what makes  Shaw so wonderfully contemporary; the audience will know the characters they meet in his plays. They may speak in unfamiliar ways, but they aren’t strangers. They live next door, or run the corner store, or are in the news on a regular basis.”

Aarles came to performing because, as he recalls it, one of his acting teachers used to say that “people choose acting because they like to feel. That now feels like kind of a generalization, but there’s truth in it for me anyway. A character presents opportunities to explore not only one’s own feelings, but to attempt to step into a stranger’s skin and understand the world from his perspective, which is often going to be quite different from one’s own. To feel and react to events not as oneself, but as someone else – doing that makes one look at the whole world a little differently.”

Candida has certainly provoked a good deal of discussion about Shaw’s worldview. It’s also provided an entrée into a world not so different from today’s contemporary gender relations. As part of a storytelling tradition, Aarles is pleased that a special connection can be made with each audience member.

“It’s a very intimate responsibility, this theatre thing,” he concludes. “Most audience members will only come once, and so each performance, we have just the one opportunity to tell this story to this very particular group of people who have come to hear it. I love that responsibility.”

Candida runs Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is followed August 18 to September 10 by the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. The Festival’s historic walking plays continue to run 7 times weekly throughout August as well.

For tickets and more information visit www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

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