George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance" is a torrent of words. The Olney Theater's production has a sputtering spigot or two, but there's enough shimmer and arch wit to make the torrent drily amusing.
The pitch of the give-and-take is fevered, and watching it is sometimes exhausting. As directed by Leo Brady, it's heavy on hairpin turns of phrase and rapid-fire gesticulation, a little like Gilbert & Sullivan without the music.
Almost everyone in the cast, from Peter Vogt's insatiably energetic underwear mogul to Pat Karpen's mock-chivalrous female Polish acrobat, is frighteningly articulate. Those who can't keep up -- such as Teddy Handfield in an inappropriately thick- tongued portrayal of Mrs. Tarleton, more charwoman than English matron; or David Cromwell, bringing an oddly untrustworthy air to the role of Tarleton's son Johnny -- merely get lost in all the glitter.
It's a two-act drawing-room comedy, a typically Shavian clash of ideas about such matters as love and hypocrisy. The argumentative action is set one Saturday in 1909 with the bourgeois Tarletons and aristocratic Summerhays ensconced in the country for some fractious relaxation. The main misalliance is the betrothal of underwear czar Tarleton's robust daughter, played with rosy high-spiritedness by Brigid Cleary, to Lord Summerhays' whiny, sickly progeny, portrayed by Michael McLeester, whining and looking ill. But that's only one contradictory coupling in a play that fairly brims with them.
The aging Lord Summerhays -- played by Henry Strozier with a suitably world- weary air -- would himself take the bubbly Hypatia Tarleton as wife, even though she makes him feel "shrieking humiliation." And Tarleton pere -- a strutting, swaggering "vital man" -- prefers Lord Summerhays' sniveling son to his own solid heir.
The constant contention in the Tarletons' household -- or, as Hypatia complains, the "talk, talk, talk" -- has each character forever being buffeted by every other. An upper-class lad and the acrobat, taking things to extremes, actually make their entrance via crashing aeroplane, while a murder-bent shop clerk, played as a mousy little squeaker by the diminutive John Shuman, patters onstage toting an outsize revolver.
It's grist enough for Shaw to mill the antithesis and synthesis of countless dialetics, and also for the Olney to indulge the playwright's clever flair. MISALLIANCE-- At the Olney through August 21.