Despite all the gender-bending, the production succeeds in building a bridge between 21st-century gay marital politics and the idea of the Ibsen Club as a solitary outpost of progressive thinking in a landscape governed by traditional values -- largely, I think, because of the persuasive nature of the program notes. Not only do these include an essay by Weimer explicitly pointing out the connection between Shaw's text and queer rights today, but the program also features a piece by a gay couple, Jon Lewis and Stuart Gaffney (co-leaders of the San Francisco Chapter of Equality California), about the "Winter of Love, 2004": the halcyon days of same-sex marriage in San Francisco.
Ultimately, the production's greatest asset isn't its topicality. The queer reading of the play, although interesting and no doubt prescient, feels somewhat superimposed. The beauty of this production of The Philanderer lies not so much in what it says about gay marital rights in our times, but in its searing depiction of a more eternal theme -- that of what it means to be an outcast or oddball in society. Intrinsically, The Philanderer is a misfit mutant of a play: Shaw wrote a fourth act, which he later cut, at the suggestion of a friend, making the published three-act version feel rather lopsided; and compared to the playwright's subsequent, conversation-heavy work, this early comedy seems curiously farcical and action-packed. Great plays reach beyond the merely newsworthy. And Theatre Rhino's queer interpretation of The Philanderer flirtatiously outs its misfit soul.