A timely classic
By Kerianne Tupac
The University of Michigan Department of Theatre & Drama presents George Bernard Shaw’s “firecracker of a play” Arms and the Man. Social criticism wrapped in an entertaining confection, Arms and the Man plays February 17 at 7:30PM, February 18 & 19 at 8PM, and February 20 at 2PM in the Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. Department of Theatre & Drama Professor Philip Kerr directs.
Considered the second greatest English-language playwright after Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw was equally as prolific, writing 29 plays and countless books, essays, articles and reviews in his lifetime. After a string of stage failures, Shaw embarked on his “Plays Pleasant,” for which Arms and the Man became his initial commercial success in 1894 and was the first of his works to debut in North America only five months after its London premiere.
Often considered an “anti-romantic” comedy, the play deftly weaves Shaw’s infamous wit with a satirical study on the illusions of both the glories of war and romantic love. Since its debut, the play has received numerous stage and film productions and was adapted by Oscar Straus for the operetta The Chocolate Soldier.
Arms and the Man is set at the end of the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885. An idealistic young Bulgarian woman, Raina, is delighted to be engaged to Sergius, a dashing but dense hero of the war. One evening she is startled to confront a soldier in her boudoir – Captain Bluntschli, a handsome Swiss mercenary fighting for Serbia – who begs for refuge. Attracted, Raina assists Bluntschli evade capture, although she views him doubly lacking in courage when he confesses that he would rather carry chocolates than bullets. Upon her fiancé’s homecoming, Raina begins to find Sergius pompous and foolhardy, a distinct contrast to her sensitive ‘chocolate cream soldier.’
When the Captain suddenly returns and is surprisingly welcomed by Sergius, Bluntschli’s presence turns Raina’s ideals, household, and engagement upside down. Torn between the two men, Raina must decide to whom she will give her heart.
“The work has a playful sense to it,” states director Kerr. “We’ve worked to find these elements in the characters and have featured it in the set which contains some whimsy. The play’s exotic setting in a sense disguises the fact that it’s very much an English play in nature. Arms and the Man lights on a number of themes – romantic idealism vs common sense and the place of women in society. Although strictly a comedy of ideas, the play is fun and nimble which is why it continues to delight audiences.”
Joining Kerr on the creative team is scenic designer Michael Bou-Maroun, a senior in Department of Theatre & Drama making his mainstage debut. Associate Professor Jessica Hahn, who recently designed Much Ado About Nothing, designs costumes.
Mary Clare Blake-Booth, a junior in the Department of Theatre & Drama (Gibson Fleck), designs lights.
Following the performance on Friday, February 18, will be a post-performance discussion moderated by Kerr and featuring members of the cast. Curtain Call Fridays offer an opportunity for audience members to talk with artists about each production.
Sponsored by the Friends of Theatre & Drama, Curtain Call Friday discussions are free and open to all.
Tickets for Arms and the Man are $24 and $18 reserved seating with students $10 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at www.music.umich.edu. The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located within the Michigan League at 911 N. University, is accessible to patrons in wheelchairs and features an infrared assisted listening system.
PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Smith Photography. Left to right: Emily Berman as Louka, Arielle Goldman as Raina, and Margot McGrath as Madame Petkoff surround Major Sergius Saranoff (Paul Koch).
Kerianne Tupac is marking and communications director for University Productions.