Well-done 'Arms' entertains, tickles brain
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
You'd normally have to wait pretty long to find a production of a Shaw play in Honolulu, but there's one this month at Hawai'i Pacific University, where Joyce Maltby directs "Arms and the Man."
George Bernard Shaw pokes his particular kind of fun in this 100-year-old comedy, dispelling any possibility that war might be heroic and that love could be romantic. There are laughs in the show — not belly yucks, but delighted chuckles that happen when the cerebral cortex is being tickled.
The hero is a cowardly soldier, who carries chocolates instead of ammunition, and the heroine uses a facade of noble postures and speeches to get her way. Yes, they do fall in love, but it's a Shavian romance in which the brain and tongue generate sparks — not the heart.
Imagine Higgins and Eliza transported from "My Fair Lady" to 19th-century Bulgaria.
Troy Apostol plays Bluntschli, the chocolate soldier, with an offhand and distracted tone, having hired himself to a war without wanting to fight it and contracting to marry a young woman without troubling himself to court her.
Lacey Chu is a heroine who realizes that he might be the only one who appreciates her for the woman she is underneath her amateurish hauteur.
David Albert is a perfect stick as a young officer who leads a suicidal cavalry charge that succeeds only because the enemy has no ammunition for its guns. He reacts to losing his fiancee with the same stoic relief he had on the battlefield.
Aerrin Liddell and Erica Best are double cast as a housemaid with designs to marry above her station. Tim Dyke is the pragmatic servant who would rather have her as his patroness than his wife.
The real delight in the production, however, comes from Hester Lewellen and Gerald Altwies as the smugly self-satisfied and self-proclaimed Bulgarian upper-class parents.
Altwies is a study in understated frustration as he finds himself personally irrelevant to both military obligations and domestic decisions on the home front. Lewellen is charmingly self-contained as she pridefully reigns over domestic status symbols — a library equipped with a servant buzzer.
A well-done Shaw play entertains while making us listen carefully and think. The best of them do that without making us aware that we've been intellectually stimulated. "Arms and the Man" does this — so catch it while you have the opportunity. It's not as good as "Pygmalion," but is a very strong contender for second place.