MAN AND SUPERMAN, Remy Bumppo, at Victory Gardens Theater. George Bernard Shaw’s unsparing comedy about love shows how little has changed in the last 96 years–or in fact since Shakespeare made Beatrice and Benedick sacrifice freedom and independence for the greater good (“The world must be peopled”). With the zeal of a scientist exposing a law of nature, Shaw reveals Ann Whitefield to be a Dresden-china dominatrix while the radical Jack Tanner is transformed into her willing victim.

They may not know their hearts, but director James Bohnen does in this perfectly pitched staging. Deftly balancing the play’s comedy and philosophy and never mocking the melodrama of the conventional subplot, he gives this war between the sexes the laughter of recognition and the thrill of brilliant talk. A model of well-timed terror yielding to inevitable relief, Shawn Douglass’s Jack is every confirmed bachelor who finds himself trapped into happiness. Anne Fogart’s passive-aggressive Ann charms, entices, and above all convinces (though Shaw greatly overestimated the power of turn-of-the-century women to overcome inequities).

As Tanner’s rival Octavius, whose hopeless devotion to Ann automatically makes him unworthy, Raymond Fox is quiveringly idealistic. David Darlow is gruffly respectable as Ann’s unwilling guardian, while Christian Gray’s cockney caricature recalls Alfred Doolittle. Cindy Gold is dottily resigned as Ann’s mother, the first to fall under her sway. Steve Conway’s witty projections dancing merrily over Tim Morrison’s supple set are the perfect backdrop.

–Lawrence Bommer