Man and Superman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Man and Superman


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Man and Superman, Rogue Theater, at the Playground Theater. George Bernard Shaw's domestic epic is amusing even without its famous philosophic parable, "Don Juan in Hell." Director Kerstin Broockman has dispensed with that third-act interlude, cut two characters, and streamlined the dialogue, reducing Shaw's four-hour tour-de-talk to a much more bearable two. The result is a clean look at the mating game that fuels the play's paradoxes. In Shaw's mind, women are driven by the Life Force to advance the species, pursuing men and trying to trick them into thinking they control the courtship. But reformer Jack Tanner knows he's a mere tool in the hands of his artful ward, Ann Whitefield, a passive-aggressive schemestress. Though she seems to waver between revolutionary zealot Tanner and poet Octavius, the outcome is never in doubt--reason enough to keep the production short.

Working on a shoestring budget (belied by Ellyzabeth Adler's sumptuous period finery), Broockman rightly puts the dialogue first, allowing the characters to emerge from their cunningly contrasted talk. As Shaw's surrogate Tanner, a modern-day Nietzschean superman, Nate White perfectly balances crusader zeal with the weakness that proves his greatest strength: the passion Ann provokes. Lisa Stran's seductress contrasts the caprices of an Edwardian temptress with the solidity of a Shavian free spirit. The other characters are well coached in accents and attitudes and superbly set off the lovers, Shaw's model for true marriage. Or as he might have put it, may the Life Force be with you.

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