Arguably George Bernard Shaw’s most profound play, Man and Superman blends social satire with a fascinating philosophy. Today, the comedy continues to make readers and audiences laugh and think – sometimes simultaneously.
Man and Superman tells the story of two rivals: John Tanner (a wealthy, politically-minded intellectual who values his freedom) and Ann Whitefield (a charming, scheming hypocritical young woman who wants Tanner as a husband). Once Tanner realizes that Miss Whitefield is hunting for a spouse (and that he is the only target), he attempts to flee, only to find out that his attraction to Ann is too overwhelming to escape.
Re-inventing Don Juan:
Although many of Shaw’s plays were financial successes, not all of the critics admired his work. While many reviewers were intrigued by Shaw’s ideas, they did not appreciate his lengthy scenes of dialogue with little-to-no conflict. One such critic, Arthur Bingham Walkley once said that Shaw is “no dramatist at all.” In the late 1800s, Walkley suggested that Shaw should write a Don Juan play. Beginning in 1901, Shaw accepted the challenge; in fact, he wrote an extensive albeit sarcastic dedication to Walkley, thanking him for the inspiration.
In the preface of Man and Superman, Shaw discusses the way Don Juan has been portrayed in other works, such as Mozart’s opera or Lord Byron’s poetry. Traditionally, Don Juan is a pursuer of women, an adulterer, and an unrepentant scoundrel. At the end of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Don Juan is dragged to Hell, leaving Shaw to wonder: What happened to Don Juan’s soul? Man and Superman provides an answer to that question. The spirit of Don Juan lives on in the form of Juan’s distant-descendant John Tanner. Instead of a pursuer of women, Tanner is a pursuer of truth. Instead of an adulterer, Tanner is a revolutionary. Instead of a scoundrel, Tanner defies social-norms and old fashioned traditions in hopes of leading the way to a better world.
Yet, the theme of seduction – typical in all incarnations of Don Juan stories – is still present. Through each act of the play, the female lead, Ann Whitefield, aggressively pursues her prey. Below is a brief summary of the play.
Man and Superman – Act One Summary:
Ann Whitefield’s father has passed away. Mr. Whitefield’s will indicate that his daughter’s guardians shall be two gentlemen:
- Roebuck Ramsden: The steadfast (and rather old-fashioned) friend of the family.
- John Tanner: A controversial author and “Member of the Idle Rich Class”The problem: Ramsden cannot stand Tanner’s morals, and Tanner cannot stand the idea of being Ann’s guardian. To complicate things, Tanner’s friend Octavius “Tavy” Robinson is head over heels in love with An. He hopes that the new guardianship will improve his chances of winning her heart.Ann flirts harmlessly whenever she is around Tavy. However, when she is alone with John Tanner (AKA “Jack”) her intentions become obvious to the audience. She wants Tanner. Whether she wants him because she loves him, or because she is infatuated with him, or merely because desires his wealth and status is entirely up to the viewer’s opinion.
When Tavy’s sister Violet enters, a romantic sub-plot is introduced. Rumor has it that Violet is pregnant and unmarried. Ramsden and Octavius are outraged and ashamed. Tanner congratulates Violet. He believes that she is simply following life’s natural impulses, and he approves the instinctive way Violet has pursued her goals despite society’s expectations.
Violet can tolerate the moral objections of her friends and family. She cannot, however, abide Tanner’s praise. She admits that she is legally married, but that the identity of her groom must remain secret. Act One of Man and Superman concludes with Ramsden and the others apologizing. Jack Tanner is disappointed; he wrongly thought that Violet has shared his moral/philosophical outlook. Instead, realizes the bulk of society is not ready to challenge traditional institutions such as marriage.
The last line of Act One:
Tanner: You must cower before the wedding ring like the rest of us, Ramsden. The cup of our ignominy is full.
Man and Superman is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy by George Bernard Shaw. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the play pokes fun of Britain’s various social classes, and casts a satirical gaze at romantic relationships and the institution of marriage. Act One of Man and Superman establishes the main characters: the independent, rebellious bachelor, John Tanner (AKA Jack) and the attractive, intelligent, and scheming Ann Whitefield (who plans to ensnare Jack into matrimony).
Plot Summary of Act Two:
Act Two of Man and Superman takes place in the park of a country home near Richmond, England. Jack’s chauffeur, Straker, is trying to fix a mechanical problem. Jack Tanner’s car is a newfangled device that frightens him because of its incredible speed (but keep in mind, since this is the early 1900s, the vehicle probably cannot get past 40 mph).
Jack’s friend Octavius (“Tavy” for short) enters the scene. Jack introduces his chaffeur, claiming that Straker represents the “New Man.” Unlike those who attend universities such as Oxford where one learns to be a gentleman, Straker prides educational background of boarding schools and technical colleges. Straker can also be considered a “New Man” (meaning: an individual who represents a positive advance in the human race) because he is more insightful than the intellectual Jack Tanner. For example, Straker sees that Ann Whitefield is obviously pursuing Tanner with romantic fervor. But Tanner is clueless until Straker finally spells it out for him at the end of Act Two.
Tavy loves Ann:
Tavy and Jack discuss the nature of Love. Tavy reaffirms his passionate devotion to Ann. Jack, as usual, pokes fun. He states that Jack does not understand because he has never been in love. Jack claims that he has always been in love (even with Ann) but he seems to be talking about a mild, perhaps platonic form of universal love — because he argues that he will never let Love control his thoughts and actions. Then, Tavy gives Jack a note from Rhoda, Ann’s younger sister.
Ann Wants Jack:
The note reveals that Ann has forbidden Rhoda to go on a motor ride with him. This infuriates Jack, but when he confronts Ann on the subject, she offers a different explanation. Ann claims that she has no moral qualms with Jack Tanner, but that her mother objects to the political manifesto written by Jack (The Revolutionist’s Handbook).
This new information sends Jack into a “sociological rage” as he declares that adult children must cut ties with their parents to develop their own soul. Jack says that she could break her chains by defying her mother. He suggests that Ann could whisk away on a road trip across Europe. Much to his surprise, Ann accepts the invitation. He is now very nervous about the idea of being alone with her for an extended period of time.
Other characters enter the scene, halting Ann and Jack’s conversation. In addition to Roebuck Ramsden and Ann’s mother, a new character is introduced: Hector Malone. He is from the east coast of America and, according to Shaw, “not at all ashamed of his nationality.” Ann explains that they are all going on the road trip to Nice, France.
Hector and Violet Are Secretly Married:
Hector offers to escort Tavy’s sister Violet, but the group becomes embarrassed and explains that it would be inappropriate for Hector to ride alone with Violet. She has recently been married, and her husband’s identity remains secret. Once Hector has a moment alone with Violet, their dialogue reveals that Hector is actually the secret husband! They have kept the marriage clandestine because Hector’s wealthy father would strongly disapprove (and probably cut off his inheritance). Hector would rather expose the truth, but Violet is disgusted at the thought of her husband having to work for a living.
Jack Can’t Handle the Truth:
As Jack and Straker return to the scene, Hector and Violet exit to discuss their upcoming cross-country trip. Jack suggests that during the trip they leave Ann and Tavy alone together to increase Tavy’s romantic opportunities. Straker responds by mysteriously whistling.
When Jack insists that Straker explain why he is whistling so smugly, Straker finally explains what is painfully obvious to him but completely unseen by Jack: Ann is intent on marrying Jack Tanner.
STRAKER: Why, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. If you ain’t spotted that, you don’t know much about these sort of things. Excuse me, you know, Mr. Tanner; but you asked me as man to man; and I told you as man to man.
TANNER: Then I – I am the bee, the spider, the marked down victim, the destined prey.
STRAKER: I dunno about the bee and the spider. But the marked down victim, that’s what you are and no mistake.
Once Jack realizes that Ann is pursuing him romantically, he tells Straker to hop in their automobile. Jack plans to drive away as fast as he can to get as much distance between himself and his seductress, Ann Whitefield. Act Two ends with his desperately comical escape.
Themes and Concepts
Ingrained within George Bernard Shaw’s humorous play Man and Superman is a perplexing yet fascinating philosophy about the potential future of mankind. During Act Three, an awesome debate between Don Juan and the Devil takes place. Many sociological issues are explored, not the least of which is the concept of the Superman.
What is a Superman?
First of all, don’t get the philosophical idea of the “Superman” mixed up with the comic book hero who flies around in blue tights and red shorts – and who looks suspiciously like Clark Kent! That Superman is bent on preserving truth, justice and the American way. The Superman from Shaw’s play possesses the following qualities:
- Superior intellect
- Cunning and intuition
- Ability to defy obsolete moral codes
- Self-defined virtues
Shaw’s Examples of Supermen:
Shaw selects a few figures from history who display some of the Superman’s traits:
- Julius Caesar
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Oliver Cromwell
Each person is a highly influential leader, each with his own amazing capabilities. Of course, each had significant failings. Shaw argues that the fate of each of these “casual supermen” was caused by the mediocrity of humanity. Because most people in society are unexceptional, the few Supermen who happen to appear on the planet now and then face a nearly impossible challenge. They must try to either subdue the mediocrity or to raise the mediocrity up to the level of Supermen.Therefore, Shaw does not simply want to see a few more Julius Caesars crop up in society. He wants mankind to evolve into an entire race of healthy, morally-independent geniuses.
Nietzsche and the Origins of the Superman
Shaw states that the idea of the Superman has been around for millennia, ever since the myth of Prometheus. Remember him from Greek mythology? He was the titan who defied Zeus and the other Olympian gods by bringing fire to mankind, thereby empowering man with a gift meant only for deities. Any character or historical figure who, like Prometheus, endeavors to create his own destiny and strive towards greatness (and perhaps leading others toward those same godlike attributes) can be considered a “superman” of sorts.
However, when the Superman is discussed in philosophy classes, the concept is usually attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1883 book Thus Spake Zarathustra Nietzsche provides a vague description of an “Ubermensch” – loosely translated into Overman or Superman. He states, “man is something which ought to be overcome,” and by this he seems to mean that mankind will evolve into something far superior to contemporary humans.
Because the definition is rather unspecified, some have interpreted a “superman” to be someone who is simply superior in strength and mental ability. But what really makes the Ubermensch out of the ordinary is his unique moral code.
Nietzsche stated that “God is dead.” He believed that all religions were false and that by recognizing that society was built upon fallacies and myths, mankind could then reinvent itself with new morals based upon a godless reality.
Some believe that Nietzsche’s theories were meant to inspire a new golden age for the human race, like the community of geniuses in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In practice, however, Nietzsche’s philosophy has been blamed (albeit unfairly) as one of the causes of 20th century fascism. It is easy to connect Nietzsche’s Ubermensch with the Nazi’s insane quest for a “master race,” a goal that resulted in wide-scaled genocide. After all, is a group of so-called Supermen are wiling and able to invent their own moral code, what is to stop them from committing countless atrocities in pursuit of their version of social perfection?
In contrast to some of Nietzsche’s ideas, Shaw’s Superman exhibits socialist leanings which the playwright believed would benefit civilization.
Shaw’s Superman and “The Revolutionist’s Handbook”
Shaw’s Man and Superman can be supplemented by “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” a political manuscript written by the protagonist of the play, John (AKA Jack) Tanner. (Of course, Shaw actually did the writing – but when writing a character analysis of Tanner, students should view the handbook as an extension of Tanner’s personality.)
In Act One of the play, the stuffy, old-fashioned character Roebuck Ramsden despises the unconventional views within Tanner’s treatise. He throws “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” into the wastebasket without even reading it. Ramsden’s action represents society’s general revulsion toward unorthodoxy. Most citizens take comfort in all things “Normal”, in long-held traditions, customs, and manners. When Tanner challenges those age-old institutions such as marriage and property ownership, mainstream thinkers (such as ol’ Ramsden) label Tanner as immoral.
“The Revolutionist Handbook” is broken into ten chapters, each one verbose – at least by today’s standards. It can be said of Jack Tanner that he loves to hear himself talk. This was undoubtedly true of the playwright as well – and he certainly enjoys expressing his loquacious thoughts on every page. There’s a lot of material to digest – much of which can be interpreted in different ways. But here’s a “nutshell” version of Shaw’s key points:
“On Good Breeding”
Shaw believes that mankind’s philosophical progression has been minimal at best. In contrast, mankind’s ability to alter agriculture, microscopic organisms, and livestock has proven to be revolutionary. Humans have learned how to generically engineer nature (yes, even during Shaw’s time). In short, man can physically improve upon Mother Nature – why then should he not use his abilities to improve upon Mankind? (This makes me wonder what Shaw would have thought of cloning technology?)
Shaw argues that humanity should gain more control over its own destiny. “Good breeding” could lead to the improvement of the human race. What does he mean by “good breeding”? Basically, he contends that most people get married and have children for the wrong reasons. They should be partnering with a mate that exhibits physical and mental qualities that are likely to produce beneficial traits in the pair’s offspring. (Not very romantic, is it?)
“Property and Marriage”
According to the playwright, the institution of marriage slows down the evolution of the Superman. Shaw perceives marriage as old-fashioned and far too similar to the acquisition of property. He felt that it prevented many people of different classes and creeds from copulating with one another. Keep in mind, he wrote this in the early 1900s when pre-marital sex was scandalous.
Shaw also hoped to remove property ownership from society. Being a member of the Fabian Society (a socialist group who advocated gradual change from within the British government), Shaw believed that landlords and aristocrats had an unfair advantage over the common man. A socialist model would provide an equal playing field, minimizing class prejudice and broadening the variety of potential mates.
Sounds strange? I think so too. But “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” provides an historic example to illustrate his point.
“The Perfectionist Experiment at Oneida Creek”
The third chapter in the handbook focuses on an obscure, experimental settlement established in upstate New York around 1848. Identifying themselves as Christian Perfectionists, John Humphrey Noyes and his followers broke away from their traditional church doctrine and launched a small community based upon morals that differed greatly from the rest of society. For example, the Perfectionists abolished property ownership. No material possessions were coveted. (I wonder if they shared each other’s toothbrush? Blah!)
Also, the institution of traditional marriage was dissolved. Instead they practiced “complex marriage.” Monogamous relationships were frowned upon; every man was supposedly married to every female. The communal life did not last forever. Noyes, before his death, believed that the commune would not function properly without his leadership; therefore, he dismantled the Perfectionist community, and the members eventually integrated back into mainstream society.
Back to the Characters: Jack and Ann
Similarly, Jack Tanner relinquishes his unorthodox ideals and ultimately gives in to Ann’s mainstream desire to be married. And it’s no coincidence that Shaw (several years before writing Man and Superman gave up his life as an eligible bachelor and married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, with whom he spent the next forty five years until her death. So, perhaps revolutionary life is pleasant pursuit in which to dabble – but it is difficult for non-Supermen to resist the pull of traditional values.
So, which character in the play comes closest to the Superman? Well, Jack Tanner is certainly the one who hopes to attain that lofty goal. Yet, it’s Ann Whitefield, the woman who chases after Tanner – she’s the one who gets what she wants and follows her own instinctive moral code to achieve her desires. Maybe she’s the Superwoman.
Character and Theme Analysis of “Man and Superman”
“Jack Tanner and the Fabian Society” (Student Essay by Elliot Staudt)
The comedy Man and Superman depicts a microcosm of English convention in the early 20th century. It is an adaptation of the Don Juan epic touching on the philosophy of Nietzsche’s ubermensch. The play’s social commentary is strongly influenced by these topics, but it contains undertones that speak to a more specific topic on the implementation of social revolution. Framed in this way, the play is a platform for concepts embodied in the socialist rhetoric of the Fabian Society. During the late 19th Century and Early 20th century, George Bernard Shaw was an active member often using his dramatic works as a vessel by which he could communicate his political views. In the setting of Man and Superman, Shaw uses the metamorphosis of the protagonist as a metaphor for the type of social revolution sought by the Fabian Society.
Jack Tanner is an unconventional character in a time when convention dictated action. He is wealthy, middle-aged, and unattached. As a confirmed bachelor he preaches free love and constantly decries the institution of marriage. Most notably he is the author of The Revolutionist’s Handbook. This book details opinions on many controversial topics from the overthrowing of governments to the role of women in the daily life. The type of person that he represents is not readily accepted among his peers.
In the eyes of Roebuck Ramsden, Jack Tanner is initially viewed in a negative light. Ramsden describes Tanner’s book as “the most infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most black guardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the common hangman” (337). Ramdsen’s views are significant. He is an older gentleman that holds an important position in society. He is introduced as, “more than a highly respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly respectable men” (333). It is therefore not unreasonable to think that the views of Ramsden might also be the views held by other important gentlemen in society.
Ramsden’s views are shared by like-minded characters in the play. After defending Violet for the circumstances in which she is having a child, Tanner finds himself apologizing to her. Violet says, “I hope you will be more careful in the future about the things you say. Of course one does not take them seriously; but they are very disagreeable, and rather in bad taste” (376). Regardless of her own motivations at that time, she wanted nothing to do with Tanner’s support. This is in stark contrast to the reception one typically gets as a lone defender.
These reactions to Tanner are generated from the way in which Tanner views himself. He says to Ann, “I have become a reformer, and like all reformers, an iconoclast. I no longer break cucumber frames and burn gorse bushes: I shatter creeds and demolish idols” (367). This is a extreme stance from which to approach life. It is understandable then that people might by offended, or even threatened, by what he represents. Tanner is unrealistic in his ideas on how to change society. In order to affect these changes in a direct manner, one would truly have to be a superman.
Were Tanner to be an ubermensch by the definition of Nietzsche, it is conceivable that he might have been able to pull off a social revolution without subtlety. The main characteristic of the ubermensch is that he/she acts in accordance with his or her desires. However, he repeatedly demonstrates that this is not the case. He is conflicted over his feelings for Ann. Even though he claims that he disliked her, he somehow always attends to her. He claims to be an intellectual but is corrected by his chauffer when quoting Beaumarchais. He freely admits he is a slave to the car and his chauffer by extension. He admits that he is intimidated by women and needs protection from at least one, namely Ann. Thought he gives a long winded diatribe to Ramsdem that claims is almost without shame and almost never regrets his actions, he clearly contradicts himself.
In the third act, Tanner dreams he is Don Juan, choosing whether he belongs in heaven or hell. Of course, this is the Shaw version of Heaven and hell rather than the traditional version in which the Devil punishes the wicked. Don Juan describes Heaven as a place in which “you live and work instead of playing and pretending. You face things as they are; you escape nothing but glamour; and your steadfastness and your peril are your glory” (436). If hell is a place in which you don’t face reality, then that has a clear connection to the state Jack Tanner finds himself in at the beginning of the third act. He is shirking responsibility in his personal life as well as avoiding the feelings he has for Ann.
In choosing to go to heaven at the end of the third act, Jack Tanner subconsciously chooses the life he has been avoiding. This is the life that accepts Ann. This is also the life that does not avoid convention, but embraces it. Heaven is a place where one contemplates the true nature of the universe. In this case, Jack chooses to contemplate the true nature of his world rather than live an existence only concerned with self-gratification.
Here again, Ramsden’s view of Tanner is significant. When Tanner has professed his love for Ann at the end of the play, Ramsden is congratulatory. He says, “you are a happy man, Jack Tanner, I envy you” (506). This is the first such supportive remark offered by Ramsden. Until this point, they had remained at odds with each other. Tanner’s engagement to Ann probably suggests he has a reasonable nature. Since Ramsden is an influential person, this changed view of Tanner will extend to Ramsden’s sphere of influence. In this light, Tanner has the opportunity to be a much more influential person.
We have a clear example of the effectiveness of this kind of man in Ramsden. Ramsden was appalled to hear that Tanner considered him, “an old man with obsolete ideas” (341), but Ramsden was just like Tanner in his youth. He says to Octavius, “I have stood for equality and liberty of conscience while they were trucking to the Church and to the aristocracy. Whitefield and I lost chance after chance through our advanced opinions” (339). In his day, his opinions were advanced enough to lose him favor in eyes of his contemporaries. Mendoza, an acquaintance they met in Spain, reported that Ramsden, “used to supper with several different ladies” (471). This is something Ramsden staunchly disagreed with in Tanner’s personal life. It is clear that a change occurred in Ramsden. It must also be true that a change occurred in society in order for a man with such radical opinions to become a man of honor.
This suggests that Tanner evolved in the same way that Ramsden did. Their views became milder as did their lifestyles. This is similar to the method of affecting change that was espoused by the Fabian Society. The Fabian Society was and still is a socialist organization that encourages the advancement of socialist principles through gradual rather than revolutionary means. Here, it is implied that Ramsden and now Tanner became more effective at advancing their own principles after adopting their milder lifestyles.
When he says, “construction cumbers the ground with institutions made by busybodies. Destruction clears it and gives us breather space and liberty” (367), Tanner did not realize that these words would apply to his own circumstance. His old life, which he thought was liberated, was actually holding him back. It was only in the destruction of that life that he was able to liberate himself. The taming of his radical nature caused his influence to expand. The Fabian Society believed that the destruction of state created national, political, and moral character. Tanner’s change is a metaphor for this creation of character. Tanner believed he had strong moral passion, but this passion was undirected. Instead, he had the foundation for a strong moral character. In submitting to Ann and accepting the traditional Victorian lifestyle, he gained a springboard from which to extend his social ideas. In so doing, he developed a stronger moral fiber, the moral fiber of a leader rather than an eccentric.
Scene from “Man and Superman” (Act Four)
Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield
Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw is a remarkably long yet fascinating comedy. Running about four hours, it is not nearly as popular as Shaw’s romantic-comedy Pygmalion. Yet, Man and Superman is my personal favorite of Shaw’s vast body of work. Although it was written over one hundred years ago, the play offers a great deal of insight into the thoughts of men and women.
The following two-person scene (from Act IV) is the final battle between the two main characters, Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield. Throughout the play Ann has been seductively luring Jack into marriage. He has been resisting as much as possible, but he is about to give in!
ANN. Violet is quite right. You ought to get married.
TANNER. (explosively) Ann: I will not marry you. Do you hear? I won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T marry you.
ANN. (placidly) Well, nobody asked you, sir she said, sir she said, sir she said. So that’s settled.
TANNER. Yes, nobody has asked me; but everybody treats the thing as settled. It’s in the air. When we meet, the others go away on absurd pretexts to leave us alone together. Ramsden no longer scowls at me: his eye beams, as if he were already giving you away to me in church. Tavy refers me to your mother and gives me his blessing. Straker openly treats you as his future employer: it was he who first told me of it.
ANN. Was that why you ran away?
TANNER. Yes, only to be stopped by a lovesick brigand and run down like a truant schoolboy.
ANN. Well, if you don’t want to be married, you needn’t be (she turns away from him and sits down, much at her ease).
TANNER (following her) Does any man want to be hanged? Yet men let themselves be hanged without a struggle for life, though they could at least give the chaplain a black eye. We do the world’s will, not our own. I have a frightful feeling that I shall let myself be married because it is the world’s will that you should have a husband.
ANN. I daresay I shall, someday.
TANNER. But why me—me of all men? Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat. I shall decay like a thing that has served its purpose and is done with; I shall change from a man with a future to a man with a past; I shall see in the greasy eyes of all the other husbands their relief at the arrival of a new prisoner to share their ignominy. The young men will scorn me as one who has sold out: to the women I, who have always been an enigma and a possibility, shall be merely somebody else’s property—and damaged goods at that: a secondhand man at best.
ANN. Well, your wife can put on a cap and make herself ugly to keep you in countenance, like my grandmother.
TANNER. So that she may make her triumph more insolent by publicly throwing away the bait the moment the trap snaps on the victim!
ANN. After all, though, what difference would it make? Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days? I thought our pictures very lovely when Papa bought them; but I haven’t looked at them for years. You never bother about my looks: you are too well used to me. I might be the umbrella stand.
TANNER. You lie, you vampire: you lie.
ANN. Flatterer. Why are you trying to fascinate me, Jack, if you don’t want to marry me?
TANNER. The Life Force. I am in the grip of the Life Force.
ANN. I don’t understand in the least: it sounds like the Life Guards.
TANNER. Why don’t you marry Tavy? He is willing. Can you not be satisfied unless your prey struggles?
ANN (turning to him as if to let him into a secret) Tavy will never marry. Haven’t you noticed that that sort of man never marries?
TANNER. What! a man who idolizes women! who sees nothing in nature but romantic scenery for love duets! Tavy, the chivalrous, the faithful, the tenderhearted and true! Tavy, never marry! Why, he was born to be swept up by the first pair of blue eyes he meets in the street.
ANN. Yes, I know. All the same, Jack, men like that always live in comfortable bachelor lodgings with broken hearts, and are adored by their landladies, and never get married. Men like you always get married.
TANNER (smiting his brow) How frightfully, horribly true! It has been staring me in the face all my life; and I never saw it before.
ANN. Oh, it’s the same with women. The poetic temperament’s a very nice temperament, very amiable, very harmless and poetic, I daresay; but it’s an old maid’s temperament.
TANNER. Barren. The Life Force passes it by.
ANN. If that’s what you mean by the Life Force, yes.
TANNER. You don’t care for Tavy?
ANN (looking round carefully to make sure that Tavy is not within earshot) No.
TANNER. And you do care for me?
ANN (rising quietly and shaking her finger at him) Now, Jack! Behave yourself.
TANNER. Infamous, abandoned woman! Devil!
ANN. Boa-constrictor! Elephant!
ANN (softly) I must be, for my future husband’s sake.
TANNER. For mine! (Correcting himself savagely) I mean for his.
ANN (ignoring the correction) Yes, for yours. You had better marry what you call a hypocrite, Jack. Women who are not hypocrites go about in rational dress and are insulted and get into all sorts of hot water. And then their husbands get dragged in too, and live in continual dread of fresh complications. Wouldn’t you prefer a wife you could depend on?
TANNER. No: a thousand times no: hot water is the revolutionist’s element. You clean men as you clean milk-pails, by scalding them.
ANN. Cold water has its uses too. It’s healthy.
TANNER (despairingly) Oh, you are witty: at the supreme moment the Life Force endows you with every quality. Well, I too can be a hypocrite. Your father’s will appointed me your guardian, not your suitor. I shall be faithful to my trust.
ANN (in low siren tones) He asked me who I would have as my guardian before he made that will. I chose you!
TANNER. The will is yours then! The trap was laid from the beginning. 324
ANN (concentrating all her magic) From the beginning—from our childhood—for both of us—by the Life Force.
TANNER. I will not marry you. I will not marry you.
ANN. Oh, you will, you will.
TANNER. I tell you, no, no, no.
ANN. I tell you, yes, yes, yes.
ANN (coaxing—imploring—almost exhausted) Yes. Before it is too late for repentance. Yes.
TANNER (struck by the echo from the past) When did all this happen to me before? Are we two dreaming?
ANN (suddenly losing her courage, with an anguish that she does not conceal) No. We are awake; and you have said no: that is all.
TANNER (brutally) Well?
ANN. Well, I made a mistake: you do not love me.
TANNER (seizing her in his arms) It is false: I love you. The Life Force enchants me: I have the whole world in my arms when I clasp you. But I am fighting for my freedom, for my honor, for my self, one and indivisible.
ANN. Your happiness will be worth them all.
Man and Superman, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night
An Elaborate Production of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman
Elijah Alexander and Susannah Livingston
California Shakespeare Theatre is presenting George Bernard Shaw’s classic Man and Superman as its second production at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda through July 29th. Director Jonathan Moscone’s intricate presentation, which is subtitled A Comedy and a Philosophy, is a sparkling comedy of manners that includes Don Juan in Hell.
Jonathan Moscone has trimmed acts one, two and four to include the play within the play, Don Juan in Hell. The comedy-drama runs approximately three and a half hours with just one intermission. Even with the cold and fog descending on the open air stage, it was well worth the time. There is wonderful interaction of metamorphosis, theoretical and sexual politics in this battle of the sexes comedy. Thanks to the magnetism of the director’s dramatization, the ability of the actors and the wit of George Bernard Shaw, this is a brilliant production.
This marks the third time I have seen the classic, not including the Paul Gregory production where the producer only presented a “concert” version of Don Juan in Hell with Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton. There has been so much written about Man and Superman and one wonders if it is a play in the light of today’s theatrical genre. It is very popular with persons who love the flow of words with Shavian wit coming from the characters. Shaw is one of the great wordsmiths of the 20th century. He can take ideals and place them side by side with the realism of ordinary life.
In Man and Superman, the characters give long speeches on their thoughts on capitalism, social reform, and male and female roles in courtship. The speeches resemble operatic arias and, indeed, Jonathan Moscone uses arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to cover the scene changes. The actors lip-sync snippets of the opera. The comedy is basically a light-hearted Victorian parlor play where the playwright’s idea of the Life Force drives women to chase a mate in order to produce a Superman. The first act centers on Jack Tanner (Elijah Alexander), a revolutionary young man who has written a book in which he propagates views that are foreign to Victorian society. He is a celibate philosopher of sexual freedom and is actually talking about Shaw’s philosophy regarding the mores of the era. Tanner’s words are full of wit, such as, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it,” “There is no love sincerer than the love of food” and “Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.”
Ann Whitefield (Susannah Livingston) is Jack’s loves nemesis and she is out to snare him. She is the eternal hunter pursuing her predestined prey and she safely secures her misogynist philanderer despite all his wriggling. They are the Beatrice and Benedict of the Victorian age. There are delightful subplots involving Hector Malone Jr. (T. Edward Webster), son of industrious American Irishman, Hector Malone Sr. (Steve Irish); and Violet Robinson (Delia McDougall).
The second act opens in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain where Mendoza (Andy Murray), the “president” of the brigands, captures Jack and Ann along with their liberal intelligent chauffeur, Straker (Dan Haitt). That scene suddenly morphs into Shaw’s version of hell where Andy Murray plays a very swinging devil dressed like Hugh Hefner. There is a scene in which a nun wonders why she is in hell, where people drink Tab and Heineken among illuminated rocks. This scene contains brilliant discussions of philosophical views of morality. There is a highly structured excursion into Nietzschean philosophy that can be described as much more than a very witty and exhilarating piece of topsy-turvy comedy. The hell scene ends with a disco party. The last act is a typical Victorian comedy scene (that will appeal to Oscar Wilde fans) involving the marriage of Hector and Violet.
Jonathan Moscone has assembled a sterling cast of actors who should receive nothing less than warm praise for their performances. Elijah Alexander is superb as a person who is impetuous, perceptive and comically naïve. His long dissertations on the progression of more exceptional humans are witty and stimulating with pleasure.
Susannah Livingston gives a strong performance as the sparring partner of Jack. He is no match for her resolutely focused Ann. Andy Murray is outstanding, matching wits with Jack and Don Juan in wonderful critiques of self-satisfaction and repugnance at human cruelty. Dan Haitt is very droll as Jack’s liberal speaking chauffeur Straker. Steve Irish is properly pompous as the nouveau riche father of Hector Malone. T. Edward Webster is charming as the son who does not care about his father’s money. L. Peter Callender is a splendid Roebuck Ramsden, a pillar of society and a blue nose character. Delia MacDougall is imposing as Violet Robinson. Ben Livingston is excellent as the disingenuous Octavius Robinson.
Annie Smart provides well-designed, simple sets with a pair of curlicues providing a sort of a proscenium. The trees and hills are fully visible and lit beautifully by Russell H. Champa when it grows dark. The lighting designer also gives a great vision of hell with red lights flooding the amphitheatre.
Man and Superman plays through July 29th at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. For tickets please 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. The next production will be Pierre Marivaux’s 18th century French comedy The Triumph of Love, which opens on August 8 and run through September 2nd.
Photo: Kevin Berne
A Side-Splitting Night with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Marin Shakespeare Festival
Jarion Monroe, Darren Bridgett
and Ryan Schmidt
Those wild and crazy guys are at it again playing three of the most fanatical characters you are bound to see on stage. Darren Bridgett, Jarion Monroe and Ryan Schmidt are currently hurling themselves and the audience through an infectiously hilarious, laugh-filled evening that touches on all of Shakespeare’s plays. There are gags that veer between sophisticated and low humor. There is a lot of slapstick and ribald humor plus many sexual innuendos, such as “how to love Willy.” The two-hour plus uproarious production is on stage at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the campus of the Dominican University of California in San Rafael through August 12.
These three zanies present an irreverent interpretation of the Bard’s 37 plays. There is the wonderful schoolboy-like sidekick (Darren Bridgett) who goes completely off the wall in many of the scenes. He draws the line at performing Coriolanus (“come on now,” he tells the other two, “are you really interested in a play with an anus in its title?”). Darren the is goofiest looking drag that you will ever see on any stage. His take on Ophelia in Hamlet is hysterical. He is also droll when giving out the biography of The Bard that somehow gets into Rudolph Hess in World War II.
Jarion Monroe as the professor who thinks he knows all about the plays of William Shakespeare is priceless in many of the skits. His ribald humor is outstanding in the fast-paced scenes. His Scottish portrayal of one of the characters in the “Scottish Play” (Macbeth) is uproarious. Covered with blood as a chef in a cooking show, he is ludicrous in the scene from Titus Andronicus. The character is cooking the man who raped and mutilated his daughter. Darren comes out onto the stage wearing an outlandish drag outfit straight from Goodwill with bloody stumps for hands. Jarion tells the audience the food is “finger licking good” and goes to the first row with a pan of the vittles, saying ” I wantcha to try this.”
A newcomer to the Bay Area, Ryan Schmidt is wonderful in the opening dialogue in the style of Robin Williams. His take on Hamlet is mirthful (he comes into the opening scene of Hamlet saying “It is I, Omelet the Cheese Danish”). His take on “To Be or Not To Be” is jovial.
The hilarious three do a rap version of Othello (“Here’s the story of a brother by the name of Othello. He liked white women and he liked … green … Jell-O”). The killing scene of Julius Caesar is done in campy style as the Soothsayer saysm “Beware the Ides of March” to which Caesar replies, “What the hell is the Ides of March” and the sayer says, “It is the fifteenth of March” and Caesar replies, “Why, that’s today.”
All of the histories of the Bard are done as a football game with the British Crown as the football. There is a lot of audience participation in this fast-paced farce. The three throw in a lot of recent jokes on Hilton Paris, George Bush and other topical items. Rebecca Redmond has found costumes from a second hand garment store that add to the merriment. There are great props by Joel Eis that include “white hard beans” that Darren uses to vomit into the first three rows. Robert S. Currier helms this off-the-wall farce, and many of the zingers are improved between the three.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs through August 12 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California, Grand Ave, San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or go on line at www.marinshakespeare.org. Their next production is Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 playing on separate dates with several marathon days on which one can catch Part 1 in the afternoon and Part 2 in the evening.
Photo: Ron Severdia
What do 2 Boys on a Cold Winter’s Night Do????
Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis
Playwright James Edwin Parker tells what two men do after sex on a cold winter’s night in Manhattan. The sexually explicit play is at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre through July 29th. The 75-minute drama set in the mid 1980s premiered in New York in 1995, and the gay community found the play provocative and enticing. It played in many cities across the United States, including a San Francisco production at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in 1996. London, Athens and Melbourne audiences also saw productions of this insightful drama.
2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night takes place around 5 a.m. during the winter of 1987 in a threadbare apartment in Chelsea. The two guys have met in a pick-up bar and just had a wild night of sex. The hunky boys have a psychological joust with each other after the sex acts are over. There is much discussion in real time of their first sex acts when they were young. We find that Peter (Paul Lekakis) is a wild and crazy guy who just loves sex for the moment. Daryl (Scott Douglas Cunningham) is looking for a life partner. You get the impression “this ain’t gonna happen” with these two guys. Yes, the old saying opposites attract opposites does not go with Peter and Daryl.
Both Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis are believable in their performances. Since they are in the buff a lot of the time, we can see that both have good bodies for 30-somethings. Lekakis brings a lot of charm to his role while Cunningham is excellent as a person looking for true love. His character does have a dark side that I won’t divulge. The shock ending is not all that shocking since it involves AIDS which was prevalent with plays taking place in the ’80s.
Director David Drake keeps the play moving along swiftly. He also makes use of the emotional comic moments in the text. One should state that heterosexuals will find it interesting since they have also experienced one night stands, especially here in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s a good provocative drama to see on a foggy cold summer night in San Francisco.
2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night plays at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco through July 29th. For tickets call 866-468-3399 or go to www.lorrainehansberrytheatre.com for more information and tickets.
Photo: Holly McDade
Cheers – and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area
- Richard Connema