Solid Shaw: Bernard Shaw's Man & Superman

Man and Superman
The Irish Repertory Theatre, NY

Anyone looking to witness a professional production of George Bernard Shaw's challenging Man and Superman that executes the obstacles that lay before it in a steady and effective way should see this current production at The Irish Repertory Theatre. With few flaws outside those arguably imbedded in the text itself, Mr. Shaw is given a fair opportunity to openly speak his mind.

There are very valid reasons for not trying to tackle this play, but the qualities that make it an epic masterpiece give argument to accepting the terms of engagement. Its length can be painful, its unfinished business frustrating, its tangents diverting; there are few ways in which it lets an audience off easy. Staring down the barrels of those many guns with a collected and even-handed manner appears to have been this troupe's plan of attacking from a slightly defensive position.

Max Gordon Moore starts in early with the well-worded role of Jack Tanner. It's not Hamlet, but Moore had many lines to learn for this character and learn them him did, with an understanding and connection that make the rogue relatable and an unlikely hero/fool of sorts. Played as a reluctant Don Juan spurred on by genetics that conflict with his contemporary theories, Moore holds it down while trying to get off the hook. Janie Brookshire does well playing his equal, even though the script does not give Ann Whitefield the same time and opportunity to explain fully why.

The parental figure of Brian Murray's Ramsden rings true with accents of Polonius-like platitudes in a more manly façade, while Laurie Kennedy's Mrs. Whitefield doesn't pretend to be in control of anything she does not truly hold and smiles sweetly while nodding to her daughter's cunning. Will Bradley teeters on the edge of caricature with the romantically love-sick Octavius as he goes for a character-actor's approach, which sits better with Brian Murray's roving eyes. Margaret Loesser Robinson and Zachary Spicer's young lovers stand strong in an amusing play at the old ways with glimpses of hope and barks of defiance; Brian Sgambati throws down for a strong working class as the equipped Straker; Jonathan Hammond is a smiling devil of benign coercion.

David Staller directs with clear and unmuddied intentions and cuts from the script with the precision of a steady hand through his adaptation. There is a lingering question as to whether more could have been extracted for the sake of time and focus, but his direction maintains a brisk enough pace, and keeping the third act in with its devices and quandaries is a respectable bow to the playwright. Set designer James Noone makes a clean backdrop for these happenings with a boldly literal vision of organic accents that never truly leave the confines of the house but utilize a certain airy sense, enough to allow for some out-door freedom.

With a stern father such as George Bernard Shaw, there is bound to be some resentment from his would-be children as he lectures and scolds, but the value of his wisdom is well worth the pain of his punishments, and the underlying invitation towards playfulness is usually there to be picked up, despite its oddities. Demanding as it ever was and ever will be, the play's the thing, and this ensemble does it justice in catching at the author's intentions. - C. Jefferson Thom

Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., Manhattan

Photo by James Higgins. Pictured (l-r): Max Gordon Moore (Jack), Brian Sgambati (Straker) and Jonathan Hammond (Mendoza).

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

cj_thom Sierra Club

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