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Paulanne Simmons

"Man and Superman" Lands Safe and Sound at the Irish Rep

MAN AND SPIDERMAN -- Max Gordon Moore (as Jack/Don Juan) in George Bernard Shaw's MAN AND SUPERMAN at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd St.), directed by David Staller. Photo by James Higgins.

Man and Superman
Adapted and Directed by David Staller
The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street
From April 26, 2012
Wed. at 3pm & 8pm, Thurs. at 7pm, Fri. at 8pm, Sat. at 3pm & 8pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $55 - $65, 212-727-2737 or www.irishrep.org
Closes June 17, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 19, 2012

George Bernard Shaw’s "Man and Superman," with its four acts, including a long, philosophical debate between Don Juan, the devil and the statue of Don Gonzalo (often performed separately as "Don Juan in Hell"), clocks in at close to three hours and is not always produced in its entirely. But the new, and excellent, revival at Irish Rep faithfully presents the play as Shaw meant it to be.

Like all Shaw’s plays, "Man and Superman" is a comedy of ideas. In fact, it is subtitled "A Comedy and a Philosophy." It includes many of Shaw’s thoughts on morality, social justice and hypocrisy. But the play is also a light comedy about the eternal war between the sexes, a war Shaw apparently believes is usually won by a clever woman.

In the Irish Rep’s revival, that clever woman, Ann, is played by the effervescent Janie Brookshire. It is Ann who must convince the reluctant and politically renegade Jack (payed with amiable roguishness by Max Gordon Moore), who has become her guardian after her father’s death, that he wants to marry her.

MAN AND SPIDERMAN -- Margaret Loesser Robinson (Violet), Janie Brookshire (Ann/Ana) and Laurie Kennedy (Mrs. Whitefield) in George Bernard Shaw's MAN AND SUPERMAN at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd St.), directed by David Staller. Photo by James Higgins.

Ann has a long-time friend, Violet (the charming Margaret Loesser Robinson) who, equally plucky and conniving, has secretly married Hector (Zachary Spicer), a wealthy American totally dependent on his father. And Ann has a brother, Octavius (Will Bradley) who is ardently and hopelessly in love with Ann.

The older generation is represented by the incomparable Brian Murray as Ramsden, who believes Jack is irresponsible and the revolutionary ideas in his book immoral; and and the gracious Laurie Kennedy as the benevolent Mrs. Whitefield, who does not fully understand Violet or Ann but wants the best for both of them.

"Man and Superman," with it’s delicate balance of deep thought and light comedy, is not an easy play to present successfully. But under David Staller’s light but firm hand (he’s also adapted), the show seems to fly through its many scenes, even the interlude in hell, broken only by one intermission.

The presentation is gloriously Edwardian, thanks to James Noone’s set and Theresa Squire’s costumes. And the witty dialogue is gloriously GBS, for the most part uncut and unaltered.

Staller, backed by a talented cast, is happily unafraid to present Shaw in all his rocky intellectualism, betting that the playwright’s wit and humor will help the audience over the bumpy parts.

He has surely won his bet.

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