Foibles of War
Arms and the Man needs legs to stand on.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Arms and the Man, now playing at the Indoor Forest Theater, penned some strong attacks on the Victorian-influenced London theater of his day, dominated as it was by artificial and saccharine melodramas. In the preface to his great dramatic play Saint Joan, Shaw wrote, “To a professional critic (I have been one myself) theater-going is the curse of Adam. The play is the evil he is paid to endure in the sweat of his brow; and the sooner it is over, the better.”
Unfortunately, I could relate to Shaw’s words with regards to this production of one of his early works.
Arms and the Man satirizes romantic attitudes toward love and war. Shaw successfully used comedy as a clever way of expressing what he thought about society. Unfortunately, the timing, pacing and line delivery of this production muted the play’s comedic possibilities.
Shaw was an ardent socialist disturbed by social inequities, class distinctions and the evils of capitalism. This play, written in 1894, while milder than his later works, touches on most of these issues. Shaw’s true anti-war feelings surfaced during World War I when he first wrote a manifesto suggesting that soldiers of every army might be wise to shoot their officers, and followed that up with a play exposing the spiritual bankruptcy of the generation responsible for the war.
The setting of this earlier anti-war piece, Arms and the Man, is Bulgaria, where a war is about to come to an end. A young woman’s sweetheart has become a hero and will soon be coming home for their betrothal. The enemy forces are fleeing and one such enemy soldier seeks and finds refuge in the room of the bride-to-be.
The soldier, armed only with wisdom, honesty and chocolate, turns out to be much more of a hero than the woman’s intended husband could ever be.
The strongest cast member in this production is Peter Eberhardt, portraying the father of the bride-to-be. He delivers his lines well while maintaining a believable accent and gives a consistent performance throughout.
Next in line for credit is John Affinito, the “enemy soldier,” who manages to convey the majority of Shavian wit. With more self-confidence he would shine.
Alli Wood should be given kudos for keeping on track and improvising when needed as those around her lost their way. She shows much potential.
Shaw took an active role in the productions of his plays. He made sure that not a single word was added or deleted. He was adamant about each vowel being pronounced correctly and not being forced. That said, no accent should be used on stage if the actor using it wanders from country twang to British mush, rendering the dialogue unintelligible.
On a positive note, the set design by Nick Hovick is effective, with each of the three acts convincingly transforming into a different room. The costuming by Adrienne Wellisch is also nicely done with period pieces from the late 1800s.
The Staff Players Repertory Company has again chosen to honor an admirable playwright. This production, however, needs more time and care to do Shaw justice.
Arms and the man continues at the indoor forest theater through April 4. 624-1531.