East Bay Express, May,
artistic director Patrick Dooley had originally planned on staging a new
Irish play for this slot in their season, but when that fell through,
he opted instead for the devilishly difficult comedy of manners cum treatise
by Irish superman George Bernard Shaw, inspired by the Don Juan legend.
Many companies delete the third act, 'Don Juan in Hell,' in the interest
of a more manageable running time, but Shotgun, by making minor cuts elsewhere
and keeping set changes to a minimum, manages to bring the show in at
a respectable, though still occasionally daunting, three-and-a-half hours.
That it bogs down here and there, particularly in that 'boy, I can't wait
to get home and read this instead' third act, may say more about Shaw
than it does about Shotgun; I've never encountered a production of any
of his full-length plays that didn't prompt that reaction at some point
or another. As John Tanner, Kevin Karrick is a fine blend of bluster and
whip-smart insights, and his early encounter with Richard Reinholdt's
hilariously stuffy Roebuck Ramsden gets things off to a roiling start.
Louise Chegwidden's Ann Whitefield is somewhat problematic: Chegwidden
perfectly captures Ann's self-possessed composure, but the faux-innocent
coquette bent on winning Tanner's hand never quite materializes, particularly
at the outset. Trish Mulholland is delightful as the acidic Mrs. Whitefield,
and also does fine cross-gender work as Tanner's resolutely working-class
chauffeur Henry Straker, while Michael Storm is campily delicious in his
dual roles as the brigand Mendoza and Lucifer. By streamlining the action,
Dooley's direction sometimes flattens out the subtleties in some places
- but there is much to admire in this intelligent, muscular production,
and I suspect that it will take on additional shadings as the actors grow
more comfortable in their roles."
Francisco Bay Guardian, May, 1999
Bernard Shaw wrote some of the best dialogue ever spoken, and the Shotgun
Players deliver it with exceptional flair in this megaplay, a reconception
of the Don Juan story that sets it in turn-of-the-century England...The
philosophy is a goofy blend of ripped-off Darwin and Nietzche, but the
comedy sparkles like Wilde. The whole cast astounds, but Kevin Karrick
is especially brilliant as the wordy Jack Tanner, who knows all about
love, except in real life, and Louise Chegwidden is a charming and Machiavellian
Berkeley Daily Planet, May
institution of marriage is a conditional victory for women that does nothing
but imprison men and destroy their true natures. Men and women are in
conflict because of the fundamental differences in their natures.
Those are the philosophies put forward by George Bernard Shaw in his play
Man and Superman, which opened Friday in Berkeley in a fascinating
and very strong production by Shotgun Players.
Set in turn-of-the-century middle-class England, Man and Superman
is built around a romantic cat and mouse game between two young adult
friends from childhood, Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield, who may or may
not be in love. Shaw uses this set-up to present the philosophies that
he held at that point in his life on the basic natures of men and women.
The right-thinking man, Shaw felt, was in tune with the creative Life
Force that guided him to create art and other socially progressive works
that would help the world to become a better place. Woman, on the other
hand, is driven by the Life Force to capture man as her procreative partner
by any means available, including lying, manipulation, and fraud.
A lot of the analysis of Shaw's life has tried to evaluate what balance
might exist between his political ideas, and his personal psychological
profile. Shaw himself, for example, was an illegitimate secret love child
of his music teacher mother and her teaching partner. He had little respect
for the institution of marriage.
Although Shaw's turn-of-the-century social philosophy contains
a misogynistic twist, he gives his female characters in Man and Superman
great power, wit, intelligence, charm and ability. Much of the play's
humor comes from the fact that men are putty in women's hands - and men
don't get it.
...Be forewarned. The current Shotgun production is a long and intense
evening in the theatre - for the serious theatre buff, and for the intellectually
hardy only...It takes an exceptionally strong staging to make long, dense,
idea-based script material like Man and Superman work. But director
Patrick Dooley and his Shotgun Players cast and crew have done a masterful
job of pulling off a fascinating evening.
The acting is strong across the board. Kevin Karrick is a compelling Jack
Tanner, and Louise Chegwidden an absorbing Ann. Michael Storm turns in
a brilliant performance as the Devil. Storm understands that most of acting
can come between the lines. His listening and reacting skills are spectacular.
Trish Mulholland is amusing as Henry Straker, Tanner's wry, witty, intelligent
Cockney chauffeur and auto mechanic, who has some of the play's best joke
lines and a better understanding of what's going on in relationships than
his social 'betters'. There are also good performances from Richard Reinholdt
(Ann's guardian Ramsden), Brian Linden (Ann's other suitor Octavius),
Wendy Weiner (Octavius' sister Violet), Norman Gee (Hector, an American
suitor) and Curtis W. Sims (Hector's father).
Amazingly, this production is done with a minimum of lighting instruments
and other traditional stage technology. It's a great reminder that the
artistry and heart of theatre come from inspired people, and not from
East Bay Express, May
the Shotgun Players, under the nimble direction of Patrick Dooley, manage
to bring their production in at a relatively sprightly three-and-a-half
hours...while sacrificing little of Shaw's wit and deeply-etched moral
and philosophical insights. (I particularly enjoyed Dooley's incorporation
of Shaw's character descriptions into the beginning of the play: some
of the funniest lines in Shaw are lost when one misses the stage directions.)
Despite some spotty performances, this is a muscular and intelligent presentation
that kept me riveted throughout most of its course...Kevin Karrick's performance
as John Tanner, the morally (and maritally) conflicted 'descendant' of
the libertine Don Juan, delivers a solid, whip-smart performance that
crackles with bluster and keen comic timing. He is ably matched by Richard
Reinholdt's pompous progressive, Roebuck Ramsden, and, in the hell sequence,
by Michael Storm's delightfully campy and self-effacing Lucifer.
As Ann Whitefield, Louise Chegwidden seems slightly miscast; she excels
at showing us Ann's razor-sharp intelligence, but what's lacking here,
particularly in the early stages of the play, are flashes of the playful,
faux-innocent coquette who ensnares both Tanner and the sensitive poet
Octavius Robinson (a somewhat flat Brian Linden). But Chegwidden holds
her own with dignity and panache in the third act as Dona Ana. Wendy Weiner,
as Octavius' pragmatic sister Violet, has a comically blunt approach to
her character that occasionally comes off as a bit too contemporary, but
Trish Mulholland, as both the acerbically resigned Mrs. Whitefield and
the aggressively proletariat chaffeur Henry Straker, tweaks laughs in
unexpected places. Casting her as Straker also provides a particularly
inspired contemporary dig at Shaw's problematic sexual politics; if one
seeks the mechanically gifted and politically straightforward 'New Man'
of the 20th century envisioned by Shaw, one naturally finds...a woman.
Staged with minimal set pieces and props (though Michael Frassinelli's
scenery achieves elegance in its simplicity, and Claire DeShon's costumes
add visual textures), this production once again demonstrates that Shotgun's
stripped-down approach to classic texts can serve the author well, and
the audience even better."
The Oakland Tribune, May
Over there - it's a bird, it's a plane, it's George Bernard Shaw's Man
Leave it to Berkeley's intrepid Shotgun Players to dust off one of the
world's most verbose plays and give it a lean, spirited production. The
play's three-and-a-half hours don't exactly fly by, but neither do they
drag. That's a major achievement.
Shaw wrote his play, subtitled 'A Comedy and a Philosophy,' between 1903
and 1905, just after the turn of the century. And as we approach the turn
of the next, Shaw still has much to offer.
This cranky - not to mention fitfully brilliant - curmudgeon of a writer
makes a lot of sense, especially when his work is performed by an appealing,
articulate cast such as Shotgun's.
This is stripped down Shaw. Director Patrick Dooley has reduced Superman
to a manageable length - no modern audience would tolerate its full five
hours no matter how packed with humor and wisdom - but it's still long.
Michael Frassinelli's set is also spare and simple. High-backed chairs
convey the arch furnishings of a London drawing room while fan-backed
wicker chairs represent a more flamboyant setting when the action shifts
For the play's most famous scene, a dream sequence set in hell, there's
an occasional puff of stage smoke and lots of harsh lighting.
The most elaborate furnishings on the makeshift stage at the South Berkeley
Congregational Church come from Shaw himself. He crafts ideas, speeches
and philosophies that are so grand and weighty that there's barely room
for anything else in the theatre, least of all his audience.
With Man and Superman, a treatise on the life force that drives
human evolution, Shaw was less concerned with entertaining than he was
with prostelytizing. He does create characters and semifarcical love story,
but these elements are merely conventions through which he can debate
modern morals and spiritual ideals.
His central mouthpiece is Jack Tanner, beautifully and eloquently played
by Kevin Karrick. Shaw describes the character as 'prodigiously fluent
of speech,' a 'megalomaniac' and 'someone who would be lost without a
sense of humor.' Karrick is all that and more.
It is through Tanner that Shaw chooses to explore divisions in economic
classes and, to great humorous effect, the battle of the sexes. Jack's
primary foe in this battle is Ann Whitefield (Louise Chegwidden), a predatory
creature out to snare Jack for her husband.
There's a lot of fuss about love, propriety and responsibility, but before
the play reaches its happy ending - happy for everyone but a love-lorn
poet - Shaw makes a detour to hell when Tanner falls asleep while on vacation
In this dream sequence, which is often performed on its own apart from
the rest of the play, Don Juan, the famous lover (also played by Karrick),
goes head to head with the devil, played with impish glee by the delightful
Michael Storm. The play all but halts while Shaw lets his characters debate
(and debate) the nature of heaven, hell and life on earth.
Again, the actors are to be commended for, first of all, memorizing the
lines, and also for making sense of it all. For over an hour, the actors
just sit and talk. Even the most attentive audience member is going to
drift occasionally. But whenever the animated Storm takes over, the audience
snaps back to attention.
Though he could have trimmed the play even more, director Dooley has things
firmly in hand and keeps the energy from flagging. This Superman
may not soar through the skies, but it does manage to leap tall buildings
in a single bound."
Shaw wrote Man and Superman in response to a joke: His friend Arthur Bingham
Walkley had suggested he do a Don Juan play. So Shaw set out to repudiate
the Catholic tenets of punishment, penance, and salvation in the original
work, bending the story to his ideas on marriage, romance, art, religion,
and the human condition.
Shaw accepted the
idea of a Nietzschean ‹bermensch capable of uplifting the human race,
and urged humanity to join with the "Life Force" in furthering the creation
of such a being -- but the cynic in him knew he was asking for the impossible.
He wrote Man and Superman expecting it to be unplayable: a witty drawing-room
comedy wherein Jack Tanner, MIRC (Member of the Idle Rich Class), descendant
of Don Juan, and pamphlet-publishing revolutionary, pursues his freedom,
while the charmingly unscrupulous Ann Whitefield pursues Jack. The work
includes a notoriously lengthy third act dream sequence, "Don Juan in
Hell," in which the playwright recast four of his players as Don Juan,
Dona Ana, her father (whose ghost killed the Don), and the Devil, and
has them dispute the merits of Shaw's radical reimaginings of Life, Heaven,
Players have undertaken this behemoth play of manners and philosophy,
cutting it to under 3 1/2 hours. (The successful editing is by dramaturge
Barry Horwitz.) The show lives or dies with the talent of its star, and
director Patrick Dooley has a doozy in actor Kevin Karrick. As Shaw's
Don Juan stand-in Tanner, Karrick is to the manor born, effortlessly portraying
the comfortable privilege that his wealth, elite education, and flawless
diction bring him. He even wears his clothes beautifully. The actor moves
fluidly, gracefully, and constantly, shaking his head in disgust, stamping
his foot in petulant anger, wiping a smudge left by his ward Ann (Louise
Chegwidden) off his automobile, rocking slightly while curled over listening
every line of Shaw's dialogue, and gives them passion, punctuating them
with his body, his vocal inflections, and various exclamatory exhalations.
He never speechifies -- which is remarkable, considering that speeches
constitute most of his dialogue. Even as the title character in the philosophy-heavy
"Don Juan in Hell," Karrick makes the philosophy dramatic: These are ideas
that matter to Don Juan, not idle, sanctimonious sermons. Karrick is astounding.
is also a real achievement: He conjures up the settings with no scenery,
a minimum of lighting and props (a whimsical motorcar is the only elaborate
set piece), and some very creative blocking. In the first act, as Tanner
is expounding, Ann takes his hard-bound pamphlet, places it on her head,
and practices her finishing-school walk, only to have the book snatched
off her head by Tanner. In another exchange, Tanner accuses all women
of being boa constrictors waiting to capture and squeeze the life out
of men. Ann takes her feather boa and teasingly winds it around Tanner's
Dooley's only real
misfirings are some annoying music choices: most grievously, his selection
of the opening bars of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" for
guess whose entrance -- a surprising lapse given his wise handling of
the rest of the piece.
The gorgeous costumes
(by Clare DeShon) evoke the elegance of the '30s. Although not from Shaw's
fin de siecle setting, they work for this production. The clothes appear
to be the actors' own and with few exceptions the players look wonderful
In the intermission
after "Don Juan in Hell," an audience member suggested the four characters
shouldn't have remained in the same seats for the entire discussion. But
Dooley makes the right choice: The drama is in the language and in the
ideas. His actors listen to each other, especially Karrick. Karrick also
moves differently than the others, who are more still, suggesting that
Don Juan doesn't really belong in Hell: He's made of different stuff.
The rest of the cast
is fine, including Chegwidden, Richard Reinholdt -- who booms as the stuffy,
stodgy Roebuck Ramsden -- Michael Storm as Mendez and the Devil, Curtis
W. Sims as Mr. Malone, and Wendy Weiner as Violet. In an odd bit of double
casting, Trish Mulholland is both Ann's mother and Shaw's Natural Man
chauffeur Henry Straker. As Mrs. Whitefield, Mulholland has a surprising
bitterness that brings her lines sting and bite, demonstrating that her
character isn't happy relegated to the margins of Ann's life. As Straker,
Mulholland's cockney is perfect, as is her relaxed, superior knowingness.
The only weak characterizations are Brian Linden as the hapless Octavius
and Norman Gee as Hector Malone. Neither can find the appropriate voice
for his role.
If Man and Superman
had been done by the ACT, the sets and costumes would have been lavish,
the accents would have been perfect, and you'd have wanted to walk out
after 20 minutes. It's wonderful to find so much talent in a small, relatively
unknown theater company. The Shotgun Players deserve a much larger audience.