Arms and the Man – Review

Ian Huffam

            I have never seen a production by Odyssey Theatre before Shaw’s Arms and the Man, and I am tempted to never see one again just to keep the memory of this production safe. Not a single element of this show is lacking or out of place, somewhat ironic given its unusual nature.

One of George Bernard Shaw’s earlier plays, Arms and the Man (An Anti-Romantic Comedy) premiered in 1894 and was later published as part of his collection Plays Pleasant. The story, set entirely in and around the house of the well-to-do yet provincial Petkoffs, deals with the young Raina when one night she and her mother shelter an enemy soldier after his defeat in battle and see him off the next morning with one of the absent master’s housecoats. When he returns during peacetime 6 months later to return the coat, confusion and mistaken identities abound when it turns out that he unknowingly made good friends with Raina’s father and fiancée in the meantime.

Given that Odyssey Theatre is known for working elements of mask and commedia dell’arte into their productions, a classic Shaw would seem like an unusual choice for their annual Theatre Under the Stars production. Director Andy Massingham however has taken Shaw’s text and stripped away all context (leaving only the barest suggestion of Shaw’s notoriously lengthy stage directions) revealing merely a story about love, war, mistaken identities, infidelity, and shiftless servants. What could be more commedia than that?

The performances delivered by the actors are the icing on Massingham’s cake. There are no weak performances by any member of this cast, resulting in a beautiful burst of energy that starts high from the first drumbeat and rises with no snags until the final clap. Especially outstanding are Philippa Leslie as the flighty and romantic Raina, Dylan George as the foppishly idiotic Major Saranoff, Claire Armstrong as lusty maid Louka, and Attila Clemann as Captain Bluntschli, the only level-headed character in the play.

Designer Snezana Pesic also calls attention for her ability to render the realistic particularities of Shavian set design into the abstract expressionism that Odyssey Theatre requires. Nothing is there that doesn’t need to be, but at no point does any part of the stage feel empty, an admirable achievement.

An interesting note about this summer’s production is the addition of indoor matinees at Academic Hall. Odyssey Theatre has been doing outdoor performances for over 20 years, but with the observation that weather patterns aren’t what they used to be there will be two indoor matinees a week until the end of the show. How might it affect the atmosphere with a roof over the audience? I might have to go back to see.

An Odyssey Theatre Production

Directed by Andy Massingham

Set Design by Snezana Pesic

Mask Design and Construction by Almut Ellinghaus

Costume Design and Construction by Alex Amini

Make-up Design by Annie Lefebvre

Lighting Design by Ron Ward

Cast: Philippa Leslie, Doreen Taylor-Claxton, Claire Armstrong, Attila Clemann, Pierre Brault, David Warburton, Dylan George