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Marry, Marry, quite contrary

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GEORGE Bernard Shaw's 1934 one-act Village Wooing was once critiqued as "hardly a play at all, being a dialogue without action."

It may be dwarfed in dramatic heft by major works such as Pygmalion, Candida and Saint Joan, but the Shavian shortie is a charming romantic entanglement between two mismatched lovers who meet on the deck of a cruise ship. As directed by Krista Jackson, Village Wooing is near perfect in style and its execution by Graham Ashmore and Tracy Penner is the delight of ShawFest.

In their comic courtship pas de deux, the woman leads, although she is identified as Z in the script and the man is A, Shaw suggesting alphabetically they couldn't be further apart. She is a chatty, village shop girl/telephone operator who is blowing all of her winnings from a newspaper contest on an ocean cruise where she spies a well-dressed man by himself writing.

Ashmore's A is a prickly, stand-offish travel writer whose work is his proclaimed pleasure. The humourless widower wants to be left alone to his scribblings but she won't take the hint. The circumstance is one Shaw often encountered in his life, pestered to distraction by female admirers during his travels.

As fate would have it, the two meet again in her village shop. She instantly recognizes him, he doesn't remember her. The avowed maritalist starts to put the moves on him, making her case that, though not pretty, she is desirable and her village is just as full of history as any of the famous destinations he writes about.

She may be common but she is uncommonly strong-willed, manoeuvring him in the third scene into buying the shop and keeping her as a employee. But that is not enough and her final pitch is that "it is cheaper to keep a wife than to pay an assistant." Neither she, nor Shaw, can explain the mysterious attraction between men and women. Her take is that she was compelled by "something above me, beyond me."

The production is hosted in a makeshift theatre, with a capacity of 20 seats, that is otherwise the RAW Gallery, located on McDermot Avenue. Despite making do with little in sets and props, Village Wooing doesn't feel minimalist in the least. The vintage costumes are first rate, from the plume of her chapeau to his wingtip shoe. DIY necessities like changing costumes and sets are done while the actors sing popular period songs such as The Honeysuckle and the Bee.

Penner's Z is immediately likable, staunch in her sense of self and pride in her humble station and home. Penner's accent is spot on and never wavers. Ashmore plays the introverted, uppercrust man with appropriate reserve and superiority. A's resistance to Z is futile and he ends up wearing the shop apron and announcing the weddings banns.

Shaw has great fun trotting out all the class, financial and educational barriers to marriage, but his heroine is not to be denied. The man may be the globe-hopping travel writer but the woman knows where she is going.

Theatre review

Village Wooing

Zone41 Theatre

To Jan. 29 at Raw Gallery

Tickets: $15 at 230-5018

Four and a half stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2012 C3

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