Notes from the Director
On one level, Arms and the Man is a delightful romantic comedy. (G.B. Shaw would probably punch me in the face for saying that.) But it also simultaneously pokes fun at society (making it a lovely companion piece with The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened a year after Arms) while it dissects and discusses the morality of war in comic and complicated ways (making it perfect to be in repertory with Julius Caesar and The Life of King Henry the Fifth).
If you’ve never seen a play written by Shaw, Arms is a delicious starting point. If you’re already familiar with Shaw, then you probably know what a treat you’re in for at today’s show. The ASC has only done Shaw once – Saint Joan on the 2002 Bright Heaven of Invention Tour (also in rep with H5). I think Shaw suits the ASC aesthetic beautifully.
As the Artistic Director of an internationally-renowned SHAKESPEARE company whose home is the world’s only re-creation of SHAKESPEARE’s indoor theatre, I always have to seek a delicate balance when making final decisions about which NON-Shakespeare titles we will produce. We don’t do mechanical revolves, recorded sound effects, or special spooky lights. Rather than using modern technology to build a world of illusion (the way a film would do), we’re committed to using Shakespeare’s staging conditions, the Blackfriars Playhouse, and great language to create theatre of the imagination. We’re looking for language-based plays that work when we leave the lights on the audience and speak directly to you, making you part of the world of the play. Not every play works in these staging conditions. But Shaw’s do.
Shaw liked to write about his plays. A lot. He often pits his own flavor of “natural morality” against the “romantic morality” he disliked. Arms was supposed to be a “pleasant play” that was “humorously serious” and did not address social problems, but rather took a traditional drama plot and set up “a conflict between real life and the romantic imagination” found in popular theatre of the time. Shaw believed that modern society had achieved a state where the conventional ideas of good and evil were no longer relevant – the stuff that creates the most good and happiness should be considered “moral.” He championed that this natural morality could not be codified into a system of rules: each person should decide for him/herself what was right or wrong in each situation. Whatever enhances our existence is good; whatever makes life more difficult is bad. It sounds like a Facebook meme, but Shaw’s morality boils down to: a lie is good if it saves a life; a lie is bad if it hurts someone.
Part of what makes Arms so tasty in repertory with JC and H5 is how this morality is applied to war. Like Shakespeare’s two plays in this rep, Arms wrestles with true and false ideas of courage, honesty, glory, patriotism, and love. War is not necessarily heroic. And in spite of how heavy all this talk of morality is, Arms is flat-out charming and funny. Come take this humorously serious ride with us.
Artistic Director and Co-founder