Cal Shakes’ Shaw is super

With its production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman” in Orinda, California Shakespeare Theater has once again lived up to its mission of keeping the classics alive, and very well.

Under swift direction by Jonathan Moscone, the lengthy show — pushing 3½ hours — is a philosophy lesson wrapped in a sassy romantic comedy, and it works all the way around.

The meat of the play is in Act 3, in Shaw’s show-within-a-show, the Don Juan in Hell dream sequence. Here the writer takes on Nietzsche’s theory of the ideal man, who lives both within and outside society, not succumbing to its falseness, yet still taking advantage of its beauty.

Though the act is long, it’s certainly not dull. It provides the perfect counterpoint to the witty escapades — also brimming with ideas — of the leading couple: Jack Tanner (Elijah Alexander, who also plays Don Juan) and Ann Whitefield (Susannah Livingston, also playing Doña Ana).

Alexander and Livingston keep up the pithy banter with acumen; while they’re full of themselves, and can be scoundrels, they’re also adorable. There isn’t a complicated plot to slow them down, either.

The story tells of Jack, wanting to be a free man; Ann, scheming to get him; and their merry friends: mealy Octavius Robinson (Ben Livingston), in love with Ann; Roebuck Ramsden (L. Peter Callender), Ann’s old-world guardian; Violet Robinson (Delia MacDougall), Octavius’ rebellious sister, and Straker (Dan Hiatt), the chauffeur who’s wise beyond his occupation.

All in all, it’s a first-class affair in the brisk outdoor (yes, it gets cold) Bruns Amphitheater, with its stage boasting an elegant set design by Annie Smart and gorgeous costumes by Anna Oliver. Both please the eyes as much as Shaw’s brilliant dialogue is a feast for the ears.

Operatic excerpts from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” lip-synched by cast members during scene changes and at the end of the show, add all the more to the realization that classics indeed can be fun.

Man and Superman

Presented by California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Bruns Amphitheater,100 Gateway Blvd., Orinda

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays; closes July 29

Tickets: $32 to $60

Contact: (510) 548-9666 or www.calshakes.org

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