Spot on, Monomoy Theatre, for presenting George Bernard Shaw's fanciful story "Arms and the Man," distinctively set in the bedchamber of a beautiful young woman to the sounds of military soldiers exchanging gunfire, unlikely as that seems. First produced on Broadway in 1894, the play continues to invoke discussions on the cold-blooded wisdom of war, women's rights, defining the worth of an individual by their "place in society" and romantic love juxtaposed with the healing powers of chocolate cream candies.
A silvery moon shines over the mountains of Bulgaria. The audience is introduced to the rich and well-known Petkoff family. They are the one percenters of their time, during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. Beautiful young Raina is the pride and joyful daughter to Major Paul and Catherine Petkoff. Raina spends her days lounging on the chaise lounge reading and daydreaming on love and marriage. Raina's father and boyfriend Sergius are both off to war. Her lovely mother enters for a bedtime chat. It's a glorious world for women who can see it as glorious.
Servant Nicola and maid Louka scurry about keeping their masters and mistresses well nourished and supplied. Afternoon tea is always served in the garden. Their future is based on the future of the well-to-do families. That's how the economy thrives. Serve the family faithfully and keep their secrets, secret.
A fearful soldier stumbles into Raina's bedroom, pistol drawn and pointed. In a moment of compassion, Raina allows the runaway Serbian Captain Bluntschli to hide. Capture means death. The Captain speaks of carrying chocolates instead of bullets. Raina is intrigued as she reaches for her own chocolate creams near her bedside. She names the captain (who is actually a free citizen of Switzerland) her "chocolate cream soldier."
Madeleine Stevens plays the whiny, petulant, starry-eyed Raina with a natural ease. She is a major's daughter who refuses to take orders. Raina will set her own destiny. Stevens is lovely to behold, capturing adolescent independence from parental values perfectly and timelessly. Gavin McNicholl's Captain Bluntschli speaks to the puzzlement of war and human nature as written by Shaw towards the end of his 50-year career as a dramatist. McNicholl plays to the everyman, ordinary guy who yearns for a chocolate and a sweet gal by his side.
Jack Plozay becomes Major Sergius Saranoff, the hero who leads the cavalry charge against the enemy. Plozay displays the determination needed to win at warfare. Never fight on equal terms. Always get the enemy when he is disadvantaged. Sergius dreams of having a lovely gal at his side, too. In romance, strict lines of engagement are often blurred. Arlene Bozich's servant Louka awards victory in a delicious portrayal as she declares quite boldly: "I will marry the man I love, something no Queen in Europe has the courage to do."
Mac Westcott continues to thoroughly entertain Monomoy audiences with dynamic performances. Westcott's servant Nicola carries the discussion of class distinction with a deep resonant voice and lightly articulated gestures. Wescott is a true professional.
Equity actress Ellen Fiske and well-known author Bernard Cornwell create the foundation to the Petkoff family as the major and his loving wife. Fiske is elegant and charming as the devoted matriarch. Cornwell's strong demeanor and paternalistic qualities both on and off the stage are appreciated by all. Fiske and Cornwell have devoted their life-long professions to the powerful expression of the written word for defining and raising our culture to higher and nobler deeds.
Guest director and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Mark Pirolo has inspired Monomoy's ensemble of student actors in this spirited and passionate production to a higher and nobler level. Costume designer Alex Allison, sound designer Theresa Kelley, scenic designer Nicole Bianco, lighting designer Andrew Garvis, and stage manager Molly Burch all deserve a standing ovation. Together these technicians transports the audience to a far-away land for an evening's entertainment. It's amazing how Monomoy Theatre adapts so gracefully, week after week.
“Arms and the Man”
At Monomoy Theatre
Through July 9
Information and reservations: 508-945-1589