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ARMS AND THE MAN
a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

COMPANY : Polk Street Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stellar Cellar
ID# 3322

SHOWING : May 08, 2009 - May 23, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

George Bernard Shaw's first popular success was written during the 1890's. It is a play of character and action, rather than policital debate, and is a delightful comedy, which ridiculed war as a sport.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Michael Campion
Set Construction David Auld
Lights/Sound David Campion
Set Construction Dave Hubbell
Asst Stage Manager Tina Powell
Properties Milan Senn
Stage Manager Colleen Twomey
Costumes Ruta Wilk
Sergius Brad Corbin
Louka Anne Jefferson
Raina Inore Mendoza
Catherine Mary Nimsgern
Bluntschli Edward Smucygz
Petkoff Tom Strong
Nicola Brian Twomey
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Out of Range
by Dedalus
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
3.0
Polk Street Players, whose strengths lie in producing small-cast comedies and farces, recently tackled Shaw himself with their production of “Arms and the Man.” I debated posting this review for a few days. After all, this play has closed, and I’ve worked with Polk Street Players before (and probably will again). More to the point, I don’t have very much nice to say about the production. I finally decided that it’s not exactly fair to the community theatres I do review to give this one a “pass,” just because I have a personal relationship with them.

Not to be too blunt, I realized less than fifteen minutes into the production that this piece was beyond the abilities of this particular cast and director. The tiny playing space was not used to its best affect, there seemed to be little (if any) script analysis evident, and the actors were only at the “I’m off book, now what?” stage.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it was an admirable effort, and the company is to be commended for the attempt – hopefully the young cast grew from the experience, and the horizons of Polk Street’s subscriber base were widened and enriched. None of the cast were terrible, they got through the evening with their dignity intact, and there were even a few moments to like and admire.

Let me start this discussion with why I believe the analysis portion of any Shaw production is critical. Shaw is about words. His characters talk, philosophize, talk, bicker, talk, moralize, and talk. Knowing the words is never enough. The actors must know the context, the soapbox, the unspoken threads their words are actually hiding. They must know when they are lying to seem sincere, lying to actually be sincere, telling the truth to hide another truth, or just soapboxing. If the actors aren’t “off book” weeks before production, something will be missed, and the evening devolves into a monotonous series of recitation and pontification.

For example, in “Arms and the Man,” Shaw is tackling war, the men who fight it, the reality of it versus the fantasy of it. His “spokes-character” is one Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary officer who has seen too many wars, knows the harsh realities of it, yet still finds himself charmed by its delusion of glory and gallantry. The first we see him is breaking into the bedroom of Raina Petkoff, the spoiled daughter of a “gentleman soldier,” and the fiancée of the biggest swaggering fool of an idiot-soldier to walk the stage since Miles Gloriosus and El Capitano. Bluntschli is immediately smitten by her innocence and passionate devotion to her ideals, she is smitten by his honesty, his peril, and, frankly, by the danger he represents – she loves living in her own adventure story.

What we saw at Polk Street was a Bluntschli who spoke his lines at a very even pace, at a very even pitch. His diction was spot-on, so we understood every word (commendable), but there was no emotion. There was no sense of his own peril, no sense of affection and attraction to Raina, nothing but a desire to get through the scene without forgetting anything. We saw a Raina who seemed to understand the giddy adventure of the whole situation, who, frankly, put more life into her words than her co-star, but who nevertheless missed the passion, the fire that is supposed to attract Bluntschli.

In Act Two, we finally meet Sergius, Raina’s fiancée. We see a large swaggering man, so large I was concerned about him hitting his head on the low-hanging lights (Polk Street has VERY small stage). He looked great, but he also looked as if he were straining to remember his words. He looked up in thought so often, I began to wonder if his lines weren’t stenciled onto the ceiling. His swaggering involved little more than pacing aimlessly in his loud boots and stroking his undergrown mustache.

Another miss here was the relationship between Raina’s parents, Paul and Catherine Petkoff. This couple is traditionally usually engaged in a battle of their own, Catherine the fierce battle-axe, Paul the hen-pecked schlub who goes off to war just to get a little peace. None of that was evident here. They played their scenes at a simple line-line-line level, with absolutely no subtext or emotional milking of the rich comedic potential of their scenes together. When Paul comments about his soldiers finding his wife more to be feared than himself, we could only wonder “Huh?”

Two characters who do click here are the servants Louka and Nicola. Both seemed to fully understand who they were, what their place was (or should be) among these people, and, on another level, within this story. And, when they were on stage with other characters, those performances sparked a little bit, also. (Yes, I am friends with the actor who played Nicola, but I also played the part myself once upon a time, so I know it enough to be overly critical). It also should be noted that, by Act III, Bluntschli seemed to come alive a bit, showing a spark of amused affection towards all the other characters.

Because the play requires three complete sets, it may have been a mistake to include walls. Two intermissions aided the set changes without adding an inordinate length to the show, but it made the middle “outdoor” Act all wrong – it looked like an interior. It made the other scenes too similar. A no-wall easily transformable space would probably have better suited this particular play.

I don’t want to disparage community theaters that attempt works seemingly “outside their range.” Taking chances is what theatre is (or ought to be) all about. And, if a bold attempt falls short, as this one does, our greatest challenge may be in pointing out where it could have been better without discouraging the effort. I know, because I’ve been there myself. Remember when I said I once played Nicola myself? The less said about THAT particular production, the better.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
We did this show in college... by mooniemcmoonster
and its one of my favorites. I played Raina. I was so excited to see someone in the area doing this show. Shaw is terribly difficult and even in seemingly more-than-capable hands (our director had a Masters from Yale) it is still easy to miss the boat (as I'm sure our production did in looking back). I really wanted to see this production, but living in Athens now it makes treks back to see shows that much harder.


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