Let's be as simple and direct as possible. Martin Benson's staging of "Man and Superman" at South Coast Repertory is flat-out gorgeous. I've seen it twice now, and I can't remember any production being more pleasurable in almost three seasons of SCR playgoing.
The play itself is a masterpiece, superior by far to the six other works by George Bernard Shaw that SCR previously has presented during its 27-year history (with the exception of "Major Barbara").
In "Man and Superman," Shaw has taken the Mozartian form of the Don Juan legend, wrapped it in a clever comedy about marriage and money, and given us an intellectually stimulating parable about the meaning of life and death, civilization and war, good and evil.
Some may cavil about this or that detail of Benson's editing. Others may complain that three hours and a few minutes is still an hour too long for any play. But to me this SCR Mainstage production is a sheer delight from top to bottom. It provides thrills too rarely experienced in the theater these days.
I could have listened all night to Shaw's mesmerizing wit delivered by a large cast of actors who grace the stage with perfectly tuned comic performances. Bravos to all, but especially to John De Lancie, Marnie Mosiman, George Ede and Jarion Monroe in the principal roles--each of whom deserves nomination for a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award--and to Patricia Frasier, Don Sparks and Lynne Griffin in three of the many supporting roles.
In fact, the delicious conceit of the postmodern design alone is worth the ticket. Cliff Faulkner's unreal set has everybody and every thing floating airily on a stage of painted clouds that sweep skyward in majestic bliss. Paulie Jenkins has lit the scenes with pastel pinks and blues, sometimes drenching the clouds with silvery hues that heaven itself might envy.
Shigeru Yaji has gone in an earthier direction toward comparatively conservative Edwardian dress, outfitting the players in tastefully rich but purposely realistic costumes. In the meantime, the sound design by Michael Roth tweaks the ear with an assortment of musical snippets from Mozart to Roy Orbison to Frank Sinatra.
Shaw once claimed, in a typically Olympian self-critique, that he had been only partially successful with "Man and Superman" because his impulse to entertain had obscured the work's deeper intent. Had he seen the new SCR production, he might have changed his mind. Benson has saturated Shaw's comedy-cum-philosophy with a dazzling clarity on both counts.
What: George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman."
When: Through Oct. 11, Tuesdays to Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to Bristol Avenue exit. Bristol to Town Center Drive, one block east of South Coast Plaza and across the street from Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Wherewithal: $23 to $30.
Where To Call: (714) 957-4033.
The Grove Shakespeare Festival's "Othello" continues through Sept. 22 at the Festival Amphitheatre in Garden Grove. This well-mounted production may be wrongheaded (a puppy-dog Iago, a ranting Othello) but it still chronicles the downfall of a man victimized by a duplicitous friend and his own pride. (714) 636-7213.
Christopher Durang's "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You" continues at the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse. Leave your religious preconceptions at home and bring a sense of humor to this sendup of Catholic mores. (714) 650-5269.