On the heels of San Jose Rep‘s embellished, extravagant Doctor Faustus comes the intimate and understated domestic portraiture of A Minister’s Wife. In this sterling musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, Christopher Vettel plays the Reverend Morell, a firebrand minister championing social justice in Victorian England. Upon welcoming his wife Candida (Sharon Rietkerk) back from a trip to London, Morell is confronted by his house guest, the young poet Eugene Marchbanks (Tim Homsley), who has fallen for Candida and intends to rescue her from what he perceives to be a life of married drudgery. The men agree to let her decide: will she run away with the romantic young aesthete or remain with her brilliant yet stuffy minister?

San Jose Repertory Theatre is perhaps not the ideal place for this delicate chamber musical, which would likely pack a greater punch at a smaller, more intimate venue, but the Rep’s production, directed by Michael Halberstam, nevertheless looks and sounds very good. Music flows from the onstage four-piece orchestra to blend organically with the actors’ voices, and the songs are seamlessly interwoven with the spoken portions. These are not poppy showtunes that you will be humming to yourself the next day; rather, they are lyricized dialogue laden with content and emotion, composed by Joshua Schmidt and Jan Levy Tranen with a good feel for Shaw’s language.

The show’s domestic focus is situated in a wider social context, and refreshingly, A Minister’s Wife does not downplay Shaw’s politics the way Lerner and Loewe did with My Fair Lady. The Reverend Morell is a Christian socialist dedicated to improving his community (Shaw himself was a Fabian socialist), and these beliefs speak to his characteristic humanity and uprightness. The point, however, is that even a man endowed with these admirable qualities will make a fool of himself if he insists on laboring within the confines of bourgeois convention.

This theme is mirrored in the Reverend’s assistants Prossy and Lexi, sour busybodies who gradually peel away their outer layers to reveal endearing inner selves. In these roles, Jarrod Zimmerman and Liz Baltes are great, as are the rest of the cast: Homsley is delightfully awkward as Marchbanks, Vettel’s minister displays a fascinating mix of warmth and vanity, and Rietkirk ties everything together as the angelic, seemingly delicate figure who turns out to be the sturdiest of the bunch.

A Minister’s Wife
Runs through July 14; $12.50-$79
San Jose Rep