George Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” is an old British comedy full of British people doing British things: having tea, ordering manservants around, apologizing for everything, calling their lawyers “solicitors” — you get the idea.
This production is a colorful period piece where the accents are as much a part of the scenery as the quaint sets and authentic-looking costumes.
It’s a tale of courtship, naturally. (What else were comedies about a century ago?) A dentist named Valentine (Brian Vaughn) is invited to have lunch with a patient’s family, the Clandons. Dolly (Tyler Layton) and Philip (Jered Tanner) are upper-class brats, bred with the finest manners but apparently having forgotten them. They sit on desks, ask people how old they are, and do other unspeakably un-British things.
Valentine finds them amusing, but he especially likes their older sister, Gloria (Caroline Shaffer). She, however, is a disciple of her mother (Leslie Brott), who is opposed to letting “sentimentality” (i.e., emotions) govern one’s behavior. Things get messy when Valentine’s landlord, Mr. Crampton (Richard Elmore), also invited to lunch, turns out to be Mrs. Clandon’s ex-husband and the children’s long-lost father. Crampton is a growling old crank, but he turns out to be an old softie who wants custody of his kids again.
The second act is much better than the first, with funnier jokes and more amusing developments. None of the play is gut-bustingly funny, though; it’s what we call a “gentle comedy,” the kind that doesn’t wear you out with laughing too hard.
The acting ensemble is strong all the way around. Layton and Tanner are particularly wonderful as the grinning (leering?) Obnoxious Twins, butting in to everything and making all things their business. They are a breath of fresh air in a genre often full of stuffy characters.
There are some themes in the play that relate to life in 1999, but they are hidden deep. Much is made of women acting “modern” or “old-fashioned,” but this has little relevance for us now, as the play’s idea of modern behavior would strike us now as terribly old-fashioned.
“You Never Can Tell” is a pleasant, happy little comedy, heavy on dialogue, that moves slowly but keeps up a jovial, energetic spirit.
This was a prime example of a play that was very well done, but that I thoroughly didn't enjoy. It just wasn't my kind of thing, and I didn't find it enjoyable. Nonetheless, the acting and directing were top-notch, so it got a good review. Just realize that if you have the same tastes as I do, you wouldn't like the show.