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Man and Superman

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The latest delight from the infallible ShawChicago is this massive mating drama from 1903, a rollicking feast of reason. For this concert reading it's been pared to two-and-three-quarters hours. ("Don Juan in Hell," the play's famous dream interlude, will be performed later in ShawChicago's season.) Like Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, the "artist-man" Jack Tanner and the "mother-woman" Ann Whitefield are reluctant partners drawn together by something stronger and greater than their individual lusts for independence. Though the revolutionary Tanner fulminates with what he calls his "moral passion," he's no match for the "life force." That imperative is wonderfully embodied by wily and resourceful Ann, a hunter-gatherer of husbands who can turn a confirmed bachelor's flight for freedom into a march to the altar. Though Shaw let himself be sidetracked by a romantic subplot and by irrelevant brigands in Spain's Sierra Nevada, even here he peopled his comedy with a carnival of rich characters. Director Robert Scogin's ten deft actors seize upon them all and love them to life. Terence Gallagher's Jack is hilariously hapless as Adrianne Cury's monomaniacal Ann, a perfectly passive-aggressive manipulatrix, spins her coils--that's Shaw's image, not mine--around his future. Other comedic bull's-eyes: Tony Dobrowolski as a stuffed-shirt moralist; Phillip Pickens as Tanner's wimpy but good-natured rival; Michael McAlister as a snobbish Irish nouveau riche; and, most fascinatingly, Kevin McDonald as a cockney chauffeur who anticipates Alfred Doolittle much as Tanner does Henry Higgins. Shaw is consistent with nothing but himself: half the pleasure of this four-star series is to watch him play at being GBS. ShawChicago, at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington (enter at 77 E. Randolph), 312-409-5605. Through November 27: Saturdays-Sundays, 2 PM; Mondays, 7 PM; no show Saturday, November 18. Free.

--Lawrence Bommer

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