Odyssey Theatre, North America’s only outdoor professional mask company is now in its 27th theatre presenting under the stars. This year, they’re bringing to Strathcona park a show not typically associated with mask or the outdoors: George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
Should you see it?
Arms and the Man, written by George Bernard Shaw and given the mask treatment by Odyssey Theatre, is about the idealization versus the reality of war. And love. It starts when a Swiss mercenary, fighting on the side of the Serbians against the Bulgarians takes refuge in a Bulgarian household while fleeing for his life. Specifically, the house of the most prominent family in the area and the bedroom of one Raina Petkoff. She helps save his life when the Bulgarian troops come looking and there’s instant chemistry between them which prompts the Swiss Captain Bluntschli to make a return visit to the household once a peace is struck six-months later — dramatically interfering with her, and everybodies, romantic ideals of war (and love) as well as with Raina’s engagement to Bulgarian war hero (depending whose version of events you like better), Major Sergius. It’s a fine piece of social satire and a great blend of entertainment mixed with poignancy.
Despite not being written to be a mask production or have Commedia stylings, Odysey gives us a brilliant adaptation of the material under the direction of Andy Massingham. It was pretty close to pitch perfect with barely a false beat to speak of. From the simple semi-surreal outdoor set down to the duality-inspired make-up deign that itself served as a mask showing the competing personalities of the characters who weren’t in full mask.
Claire Armstrong commanded her time on stage as Louka, the fiery servant who demanded more and pushed social customs as far as she possibly could. Philippa Leslie’s Raina was hard to take your eyes off of with her striking beauty and make-up and the sharpness of her every movement, while her Raina alternated between the romantic ideals she held and personality expected of her into her moments of sincerity and realism that captured who she really was. Attila Clemann brought everything together wonderfully as the most level headed of the group, Captain Bluntschli, with a keen vision of the world and willingness to speak plain. The all-star cast of this production is rounded out by Dylan George, David Warburton, Doreen Taylor-Claxton, and Pierre Brault.
Even on the damp and cool night we were there, with the threat of storm clouds ever looming and the stage most obviously having been rained on earlier in the day, Odyssey’s Arms and the Man was a fantastic show that made it easy to forget those things. The ice cream may sell better on a warmer evening, scratch that, will sell better on a warmer evening, but on whatever day suits you, Arms and the Man will be a worthwhile evening at some theatre under the stars.
Unless you choose to see a matinee, in which case you’ll trade stars for air conditioning with Odyssey holding all of their Tuesday and Saturday Matinees at the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall. It’s hard to imagine a show like this being so contained by walls and a roof but I don’t doubt this team’s ability to pull it off.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? If you’ve seen Arms and the Man done more traditionally, how does this version stack up? How does the show play in the indoor venue? Let me know in the comments below.
Arms and the Man runs until August 17th in the beautiful Strathcona park by the river. Find out all the details, including video and photos, in our preview article.