Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Man And Superman"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark

"Man And Superman"

by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by David Wheeler

Set Design by Christine Jones
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design by John Ambrosone
Sound Design by David Remedios
Stage Manager Chris Sinclair-Rowe

Jack Tanner/Don Juan.................Don Reilly
Ann Whitefield/Dona Ana........Kristin Flanders
'Enry Straker......................Stephen Rowe
Octavius Robinson..................Scott Ripley
Mrs. Whitefield.....................Marya Lowry
Violet Robinson...................Rachel Warren
Hector Malone......................Jason Fisher
Roebuck Ramsden/Statue............Alvin Epstein
Mendoza/Devil......................Jeremy Geidt
Hector Malone Sr. ..................Jack Willis
Officer.........................Ricardo Egerman
Brigands...........Scott Harrison, Robert Kropf
Jeremy Rabb & Kevin Varner

In George Bernard Shaw's "Man And Superman" Ann Whitefield is a wilfull, lying little scheemer pretending feminine innocence while determined to marry the loquatiously irreverent Jack Tanner, and she's usually played as a winsome bit of fluff to make her victories seem all the more surprising. On the big thrust-stage at Loeb Drama Center, however, Kristin Flanders takes Ann's gloves off early, and slugs it out toe-to-toe with Don Reilly's Jack, in a production so fast and funny the mind must gallop to catch all the still astringent social commentary.

Director David Wheeler has held this American Repertory Theatre production down to a "mere" three hours, but the pace is so brisk and Reilly's Jack so glibly ebullient it seems brief, even with a "Don Juan in Hell" dream sequence beginning the second half that, strangely, never quite catches fire. (Watching the familiar characters pretend to be a philosophically-inclined debating society in eternal chat about "The Life Force" that spurs man to be his best gets upstaged here by the livelier interplay before and after.)

The play's plot is a parade of delightfully preposterous occurrences, from the yoking of a conventional old stuffed shirt (Alvin Epstein) with the author of "The Revolutionist's Handbook" (Reilly) as co-guardians for Ann, to a quartet of "Keystone Krooks" ransoming motorists in the mountains of Spain, to an American financier (Jack Willis) bent on buying his son a titled wife and threatening to disinherit him if he marries merely upper- middle.

One of the delights of the show is Stephen Rowe, playing Jack's snobbishly proud working-class chauffeur 'Enry Straker, who hides his excellent education under a militant dedication to machinery and racing turn-of-the-century motor cars. He is also a match for Reilly's Jack, and their scenes together display a fine contrast in controlled comic timing.

Then there's Scott Ripley as the wilting poet totally and hopelessly in love with Ann, sighing like furnace and bursting preposterously into song at unexpected moments. And Marya Lowry as the mother Ann is always pretending "insists" Ann do whatever Ann really wants. The sight of her bewilderment as she waits for hints as to what new lie of her daughter's she must corroborate is a tiny gem of silent characterization. And there's a whole sub-plot involving Rachel Warren and Jason Fisher who must keep their loving marriage secret to make certain neither will have to work for their inherited wealth.

Christine Jones provides several starkly simple backdrops that take full advantage of the huge Loeb stage --- like sending Alvin Epstein thirty feet up a ladder to return a ledger-book to its proper shelf, or flying-in three columnar fifty-foot treetrunks, or sliding in slate-gray minimalist mountainsides to simulate Spain.

David Wheeler's decisions are always toward direct, contemporary forthrightness in readings and confrontations. The only thing "period" about the show are Catherine Zuber's costumes; the only dry patch that dream set in Hell, during which Jeremy Geidt as the Devil and Alvin Epstein as the Statue seem to be singing instead of finding the comic punch in what they have to say. Luckily this is never true in the rest of the play, and the cast siezes every quick, comic opportunity to shine. Philosophy has never been funnier.


"Man And Superman" (till 8 June)
LOEB DRAMA CENTER, American Repertory Theatre
64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE
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THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide