Arms and the Man

George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man

Directed by Heike Hambley (Bach at Leipzig, Copenhagen)
November 20 — December 13, 2009
(Thur-Sat 8 pm; Sun 2 pm)
Tickets $15

A young woman sits in her window, dreaming of her fiancée, a Bulgarian noble who is off to war. A middle-aged man, Captain Bluntschli, who is a soldier in the opposing Serbian army, climbs in her window. He seeks shelter after a devastating Serbian defeat. As they talk, his lack of idealism affronts her. Her fiancée, Sergius, led the cavalry charge against the Serbian machine guns and won. Sergius’s behavior confirms her picture of the true hero, and Bluntschli definitely doesn’t match up to it. He’s a mercenary. He joined the Serbian army pure and simple because the Serbians got to his village before the Bulgarians, and he sees Sergius’s actions, however successful they were, as nothing but folly. Sergius survived solely because of a mistake on the part of his army’s quartermaster. Bluntschli’s gunners were sent the wrong caliber of ammunition and so they couldn’t decimate the Bulgarian cavalry when they attacked against all the perceived wisdom of military engagement. His prosaic view of war, of everything! -he carries bon bons in his cartridge belt because chocolates are more soothing than bullets in the heat of battle—irritates her but she hides him anyway. The next day he leaves but she finds she can’t forget him. Then Sergius returns. His demonstrative heroism is wearing, and is he really all that he pretends to be?

George Bernard Shaw was one of the greatest and most influential playwrights of the twentieth century, a master at combining social commentary and biting wit. Arms and the Man had been one of his most beloved plays since it opened in London in 1894. It has been a favorite of theatergoers ever since with actors from Ralph Richardson to Kevin Kline and John Malkovich playing the “chocolate soldier” Bluntschli, Olivier, Brando (in his final stage appearance, in 1953) and Raul Julia playing Sergius and Glenne Headly and Helena Bonham Carter the tempestuous and overly romantic young Bulgarian, Raina. Arms is one of two plays by Shaw to be made into a musical –a Viennese operetta, The Chocolate Soldier in 1908. (The other was Pygmalion (1913), the basis for My Fair Lady (1953). Shaw subtitled Arms and the Man “A Pleasant Play,” and a pleasant play it is. The dialogue is light but Shaw lards it with witty observations on a variety of topics: class relations, social pretension, the folly of romanticism, the brutal reality of war. Veteran director Heike Hambley (Copenhagen, The Physicists, Bach at Leipzig) has assembled a first-rate cast to bring this theater classic to life once more. If you don’t laugh at Arms and the Man, ask your doctor to check your pulse: you may already be dead.

Prospect Theater Project
520 Scenic Drive, Modesto
For tickets, call 549-9341