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Shaw's Weak Writing Strangles 'Man'

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw Directed by Maya Jasanoff produced by Terri Halperin at the Loeb Experimental Theater November 30 - December 2

By Peter A. Hahn

The mediocrity that plagues "Arms and the Man" lingers in the mind long after the show. George Bernard Shaw's uninteresting play and the actors' lack of skill dashed the production's chances for success. With tedious dialogue and a predictable story line, the viewer spends a lot of time wondering when the performance will end.

From the outset, Raina, played by Sarah Matthay '99, offered a bright contrast to the dismal effort of many members of the cast. Although she became overbearing and whiny at times, her motions and dialogue were able to shine through the weaknesses for most of the show. The promise for future success was evident, and a better script is all she needs to unleash her talent.

Male lead Ross Benjamin '96, on the other hand, unconvincingly played Raina's suitor, Captain Bluntschli. Fairly distant from his character, Benjamin seemed to be reading lines from a script, as if he lacked the time to incorporate emotion into his role. With a lackadaisical stroll and a tone lacking in energy, he failed to drive the show forward.

With darting glances and sneers irrelevant to her role as Raina's mother, Holly Maples tried to make her character appear overly civilized and dignified. Peter Picard '96 gave one of the most sound performances as Raina's father, portraying well the stiff patriarchal personality. Galen Weston '96 portrayed the insensitive, womanizing Sergius quite well.

Playing the servant Louka, Dana Gotlieb '97 made indescribable facial contortions which gave the impression that she was confused about how to express herself. Aside from this flaw, Gotlieb credibly played a very energetic servant who likes to flirt with the boys.

In addition to character problems, several difficulties in the production derived from Shaw's writing. The intertwining of relationships seemed to come straight from the scenes of daytime television, complete with fleeting sexual advances and enigmatic pairings. Shaw's attempt to blend comedy with suspense, along with the ambiguous acting techniques of the performance, resulted in weak transitions between undeveloped comic sequences and scenes meant to stir up emotions. Raina could be talking about her undying love and Bluntschli would be laughing at her at the same time. The combinations rarely made sense.

Throughout the performance, both the plot and characterization stood out as naive. Bluntschli being referred to as the "chocolate creme" soldier was immature and Louka's girlish innocence didn't quite fit her character. The childhood regression seemed inappropriate for the subject at hand. Possibly Shaw was trying to contrast adolescent naivete with the harsh reality of the late 19th century war setting, but the concepts repelled each other more than making a statement.

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