ARMS AND THE MANby George Bernard Shaw
Director - Jim Covault
Set Design - Jim Covault
Costume Design - Michael Robinson and Dallas Costume Shoppe
Lighting Design - Michael O'Brien
Props/Set Decor - Lynn Lovett
Raina - Cassie Bann
Bluntschli - Mark Shum
Louka - Morgan McClure
Catherine - Emily Scott Banks
Major Petkoff - Jerry Russell
Sergius - Samuel West Swanson
Nicola - Dwight Greene
Officer - Brandon Simmons
Reviewed Performance: 10/30/2011
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
George Bernard Shaw's classic play attacks the romantic delusions of war which are as prevalent today as when first performed in London in 1894. Today we hear of suicide terrorists who've been led to believe there's glory in blowing one's self up for a religious cause. In this play we watch in a lighthearted way the heroine Raina, played by Cassie Bann, have her romantic ideals of war, and her model soldier fianc? become base and human in his infidelity and stupidity. The dashing Bulgarian soldier Sergius, played by Samuel West Swanson, leads a daring charge with his soldiers that are soon revealed as simply a bad idea that places his men's lives at unnecessary risk. The blundering soldier has bravado but no military sense.
In contrast, the professional Swiss soldier, played by Mark Shum, conveys the opposing perspective of Sergius' charge to Raina, and, at the same time, woos her with Swiss efficiency. The audience knows she's being wooed but Raina delays embracing that idea until an appropriate moment. Mark Shum plays the boyishly handsome Swiss soldier, Bluntshli, in an understated but successful way. Raina even calls him her "Chocolate Cream Soldier" which is close to the title of the 1908 musical which became a huge hit: The Chocolate Soldier.
What happens with a chocolate cream? You bite into it and something unexpected and different is on the inside. The same happens in Mr. Shaw's play. Nothing and no one is as it first appears on the outside. We believe one thing about a particular character, and then deliciously watch him or her transform before our eyes to quite the opposite. Shaw's skillful writing makes the multi-layered characters believable. That is, a dedicated servant cares not so much for his master, but more in investing in his own future. The servant Nicola, played by Dwight Greene, allows himself to be a scapegoat while manipulating his master to believe he's trustworthy. The whole time he's plotting for his future benefit rather than actually being loyal.
Emily Scott Banks as Raina's mother Catherine was not so difficult to read. I could compare her to a solid piece of dark chocolate. Her facial expressions were entertaining. She wore her emotions on the sleeve of her beautiful costume as a proper Bulgarian lady. I enjoyed the line when she ordered the laundry be removed from the bushes so as to not appear boorish and unsophisticated. Catherine prattled on about their refined family bloodlines, and yet dried her laundry on the bushes. Irony level alert again!
To add to all this Balkan nouveau chic, we had a well-dressed cast with clear diction and delivery of Shaw's packed text. The rich dialogue banter was paced nicely with only a few stumbled over lines. While this seems like a backwards compliment, it's really not. Shaw's text, while not needing to be translated into modern English as much as Shakespeare's, certainly is as dense as Grandma's mincemeat pie, and flies by as quickly as a deserting Bulgarian soldier. Actors must properly warm up their tongues to speak it well, and audience members must stay on the edge of their intellectual seats to catch it all. Don't let your mind rest on the back cavity of your brain or you'll miss the fun.
Director Jim Covault blocked complicated stage movements well. On rare occasions the male characters seemed slightly bunched together, and appeared to have difficulty deciding who had the limelight but they adjusted and worked it out. Perhaps a little male bravado going on?
The character of the maid, Louka, intrigued me most and was played with imagination by Morgan McClure. This actress took the most risks with gestures and penetrating looks. Those risks paid off. Mr. Shaw's maid character is the most interesting one in the play. Ms. McClure ran with that fact. Louka rebelled against the role society had dictated she must be, a poor servant. Perhaps that's why I favor her, a rebel, who heads the opposite direction she's ordered
as often as possible. Why? Because she must. Hah! I love that.
My raving about this character does not mean in the least that I didn't care for the portrayal of the others. On the contrary, the whole cast was sharp and tight. Which is why I'm baffled to see any empty seats at a fine theatre. I've seen this 33 year old company put on several strong productions at reasonable prices, and yet folks do not fill the seats. The glorious fall weather may have been the culprit but?.why miss the opportunity to view so much male posturing, female finagling, stolen kisses and goofy gun pointing all rolled into a couple of hours?
One must even giggle at the lighting being ironic when one little lamp swiftly illuminates the whole stage. This old technique provided the brightness needed to view the action in a supposedly believable way. Experienced theatre goers are used to seeing such techniques used but nonetheless may not know how difficult it is for technicians to execute and accomplish those moments in unobtrusive ways. Bravo to Lighting Designer Michael O'Brien, Technical Director Jason Domm, Board Operator Jonathan Jones, and Lighting Assistant Owen Hedden for precise timing with the lights and sounds. The explosions and sounds of war played an important part in the telling of the story and all sound cues happened on time.
While the playbill was missing a scene synopsis and director's note, it did contain an interesting section about George Bernard Shaw's life. The playwright wrote well over fifty plays into his 90's.
Multiple elaborate set changes were accomplished during two intermissions by the running and set crew, giving the audience a chance to enjoy John Nickell's vibrant watercolor art in the gallery and elegant but tasty deserts by the ol' vic caf?. How often can one have high quality theatre, art, and cuisine served up in the space of a few hours? Don't miss an opportunity to see this anti-war comedy with a British flare which shows how war and marriage are almost the same
Stage West, 821/823 W. Vickery Blvd., Ft. Worth, TX 76109
Runs through November 27th
No show on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24th
Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm
Tickets are $26 Thursday & Sunday, and $24 Friday & Saturday.
Student Rush Tickets are $5 ? ? hour before each performance, as available.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.stagewest.org or by calling metro 817-784-9378.