Last Tuesday, the students of Professor Janet Godwin’s First-Year Seminar (FSEM), British Comedy, preformed their first of two plays, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man. Throughout the semester, the class read seven British comedies from a 400-year period before dividing into two groups to prepare productions of Arms and the Man. and One Way Pendulum, which will be performed next week. According to Godwin, Arms and the Man. “appeals to audiences, is fun to prepare, and a classic,” while One Way Pendulum “takes the non sequitur to its limit and stands logic on its head.” In this way, the two plays showcase the two sides of British comedy.
Creatively staged in the Ho Lecture Room of Lawrence Hall, Arms and the Man. takes place in Bulgaria as the Serbo-Bulgarian War comes to a close in 1886. In his classic style, Shaw takes a comedic look at the idealistic life of the Petkoff family, the wealthiest in Bulgaria, as he breaks down traditional values about war and love.
“For a small cast to put together a Shaw play…the actors must listen to each other, build emotions to a climax-and in the case of this play, retreat from it, and build a new one,” said Godwin.
With a mix of exaggerated, romantic, and tongue-in-cheek humor, the students executed a professional and enjoyable production.
The play began with Raina Petkoff, first-year Casey Gorman, fawning to her mother, first-year Julie Calnero, over her betrothed, Sergius, who has just led the Bulgarian army to victory. When Bluntschli, an officer in the enemy Serbian army, played convincingly by first-year Ben Kreider, climbs the balcony to Raina’s bedroom, she agrees to protect him.
Kreider’s soft-spoken comedic timing and the Borat-esque accent Nathan Swift assigned to his character of a Russian soldier got the audience laughing early and often.
As the second act began, so did a subplot of a romance between the two servants of the household, Louka and Nicola, portrayed by first-years Liz Harrow and Nathan Swift. Sergius, played by first-year Sam Christie, and Raina’s father, played by first-year Iustin Moga, soon return from war, and hilarity ensues.
In a string of comic events, it is revealed to the audience that Sergius has had an affair with Louka, even though he was engaged to Raina and she was engaged to Nicola. To further complicate things, Raina confesses that she does not love Sergius and that she left Bluntschli with a photographic souvenir to remember her by.
Calnero was impressive in her role of Mrs. Petkoff, desperately trying to maintain the illusion of order in her house, and Gorman seemed at ease on stage. Christie kept the audience laughing with his portrayal of proud and stubborn Sergius, who had a penchant to call Raina and Louka ridiculous names like “Viper” and “Tigercat” when he was angry.
The layers of plot eventually sorted themselves out, resulting in a happy ending, where all of the characters switch their romantic partners and it is revealed that Bluntschli is in fact the equivalent of an emperor in Switzerland.
“We weren’t sure what to expect from the audience,” Calnero said. “When you read the play, you’re wondering where the laughs are, but the actors really found the jokes and made them count.”
Teaching Assistant senior Anne Slotnick explained that some students, but not all, had previous acting experience before taking this FSEM.
“I’m very proud of them,” Slotnick said, “It really came together and solidified in the past week.”
The students in the FSEM who did not perform in Arms and the Man. will have roles in N.F. Simpson’s One Way Pendulum, which will be performed in the Ho Lecture Room next Tuesday, December 4th, at 4:10. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.