MAN AND SUPERMAN by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Neil Munro, with Ben Carlson, Fiona Byrne, Evan Buliung, David Schurmann, Benedict Campbell, Patrick Galligan, Lisa Norton, Graeme Somerville and Sharry Flett. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Festival Theatre. Runs in rep to October 9. $47-$77. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Sometimes the plays of Bernard Shaw are more intellectual exercises than theatrical ones, but when the best of them are handled by the right director and cast, the result is dramatic fireworks. That's the case with Man And Superman , which Neil Munro and his Shaw Festival cast turn into the best festival production I've seen this summer.
At its centre is John Tanner ( Ben Carlson ), a talkative revolutionary oblivious to the fact that he's in the amatory sights of Ann Whitefield ( Fiona Byrne ), a woman who sidesteps responsibility for her attitudes and actions and doesn't realize she herself is in the grip of an evolutionary life force. In fact, it's the women who are the practical winners in this world, for the men are either romantic dreamers or blind fools.
The script is a satire on romance and an investigation of the class system, banditry, morality, philosophical hobby horses and more - including a rewrite of the Don Juan legend - woven into theatre that sparkles with ideas and images.
Munro keeps it all clever, sharp and fast-paced, and it's a shame that there were so few performances that included the nearly two-hour Don Juan In Hell sequence, a four-way debate that extended the ideas in the script's shorter version.
In the performance of his young career, Carlson delivers his long speeches with machine-gun-like precision, showing us the prickly, opinionated Tanner's thought processes and his gradual awakening to the danger presented by Ann. Byrne's persistently stalking Ann is by turns sexy, innocent and condescending, a woman manipulative enough to attack on any front.
They've got great support from the other key performers, among them Evan Buliung as the wimpy, naive, quivering-lipped romantic who pines for Ann; David Schurmann as the play's spokesman for conservatism and as much a gull for Ann as Buliung's Octavius; Benjamin Campbell as a devilishly witty Spanish brigand and entrepreneur; Sharry Flett as Ann's mother, all too aware of her daughter's slippery arguments; and Patrick Galligan as Tanner's worldly-wise but socially inferior chauffeur.
A great play, as funny as it is wise.