Arms and the Man – not just a play of sweets and sweethearts

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Photo: Ladd Johnson

Photo caption: Raina Petkoff (Sheila Mawn) does not know what to do with all the attention she receives from men with arms – Captain Bluntschli (Mathieu Hodgson) and Major Saranoff (Bill Black) 

Final preparations are underway for the Quebec Art Company’s spring production – Arms and the Man. This work, written by the famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, is a period comedy set during the late 1880s at the end of the Serbo-Bulgarian War. All the action takes place at the home of the pretentious Petkoff family in rural Bulgaria, where confusion and comedy ensue after a fugitive enemy soldier is helped to escape by the daughter, who is betrothed to the local war hero. The unexpected return of the mysterious “chocolate cream soldier” creates havoc by exposing the true nature of the romantic entanglements that involve various servants and family members.

For this production, the QAC has assembled a strong cast of mostly new and newer faces. Newcomers Herbert Goss and Thomas Leblanc-Beauregard play supporting roles as the pompous Major Petkoff and his shrewd manservant Nicolas while Sheila Mawn and Mathieu Hodgson emerge from more minor parts in recent productions to take on the lead roles of Raina Petkoff and Captain Bluntschli. They are joined by Laura Palladino, an experienced performer appearing in her second QAC production, who plays Catherine Petkoff, the status-conscious matriarch of the family. The youthful cast is rounded out with Bill Black and Rosie Sabor, stars of the QAC’s recent Our Town, who, as the arrogant Major Saranoff and the feisty servant Louka, create unexpected trouble for all. 

Although at first glance this play appears to be a simple romantic comedy, it is also a more serious critique of attitudes prevalent at the time and is still quite relevant in our modern times. The glory of war, the role of women, and the class structure of society are all targets of Shaw’s witty and often poignant pen. First produced over 100 years ago, the play was soon adapted into an immensely popular operetta (The Chocolate Soldier) and has enjoyed periodic revivals and film versions ever since, including such well known actors as Marlon Brando, John Malkovich, and Kevin Kline. It is being brought to the Quebec stage by first-time director Mark Lepitre, who has added this new aspect of theatre to his more usual roles of acting in and producing QAC shows. “The cast may be small in number, but there appears to be no shortage of talent, dedication, or readiness to provide the best show possible” says Lepitre. Goss, who recently moved to Québec from Hollywood where he worked as a scriptwriter and actor, adds, “I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the artists here – they have the same desire and work ethic to put on an excellent show as they do in the entertainment capital of the world”. 

Three performances are available to the general public next week, Friday through Sunday, April 17-19. (The usual Thursday night performance has been reserved for a special appreciation night for volunteers involved with Jeffery Hale Community Services.) For general information, see the Community Calendar, call 418 254-6552 or visit the QAC website (www.quebecartcompany.com).