The Good: Very funny, Interesting characters, Decent plot, Some wonderful lines
The Bad: Very basic plot/character development
The Basics: Bernard Shaw writes the seminal pacifist romantic comedy with Arms And The Man.
The last few nights, as I work at my night job, I have found myself thinking of my high school and college girlfriend. For over three years we dated, despite going to different high schools and colleges and having increasingly divergent interests. One of the things she became very interested in was live theater. She went to an artistic high school and became a theater techie, so I attended a couple plays that she worked the light board and sound for. I realized that the reason she was drifting to my mind – a decade and a half after we were last together – because the book I was reading on my breaks was Arms And The Man. Arms And The Man, as I began to recall as I read, was my ex-girlfriend’s favorite play back in the day.
Reading Arms And The Man, I could actually see why – at least for the young woman she was back in the day. Arms And The Man is a romantic comedy by Bernard Shaw and it’s a quick read. The three act play is set during and after the Serbo-Bulgarian War in a Bulgarian house of Petkoff. Petkoff was a Major and he has left his wife and his daughter home while he and his daughter’s fiancé are out fighting the war.
One night, as the Serbian Army is fleeing through the town, Raina (the daughter of Major Petkoff) and Catherine lock down their house to protect themselves as soldiers flee through the town. Raina is in her bedroom when a soldier climbs the drainpipe and enters her room. The man is a Swiss soldier of fortune working for the Serbs. Raina is not intimidated by the exhausted soldier and when he tells a story that includes Raina’s fiancé, Sergius, her interest is piqued. Sergius, as it happens, led a cavalry charge against the Serbians which was tactically unwise, but succeeded because the Serbs had ammunition problems. Raina is thrilled by the story of Sergius’s victory and uses it as a point of derision against the man who has invaded her bedroom. The man reveals that he loathes warfare and prefers chocolates and over the course of the ludicrous conversation, he becomes exhausted, Raina becomes enthralled and she hides him in her room from the military forces that are pursuing him.
Months later, with the war over, Sergius returns to the Petkoff residence to reconnect with Raina. Raina is flirtatious with Sergius, but somewhat reserved and the Petkoff maid, Louka, becomes the subject of Sergius’s attention as well. With the relationship between Sergius and Raina strained, the appearance of Bluntschli (the man rescued by Raina months prior) at the home becomes a source of romantic intrigue. Bluntschli reappeared at the house to return the housecoat he wore when escaping the Bulgarian soldiers who were searching for him and to Raina’s shock, both Sergius and the Major recognize him. Over the course of the time together, Sergius and Raina realize they have little in common and Bluntschli and Raina banter quite a bit. When Bluntschli inherits a fortune, Raina is torn between the reliable, but unwanted, Sergius, and the uncertain, but desireable, Bluntschli.
Arms And The Man is funny and charming. Bernard Shaw is a master of banter in Arms And The Man. In addition to being witty and cute, Shaw uses his dialogue to deliver some pretty exceptional observations. Shaw has some biting commentary on military doctrines that remain relevant even today. As well, Shaw makes clever observations on the way men and women relate. He strips away the pretense of societal structures by having Raina’s affections for Sergius be based more on his reputation and stature as opposed to anything they have in common, contrasted with the instant chemistry of Raina and Bluntschli.
The characters in Arms And The Man are interesting. Bluntschli is funny, insightful, and charming; Raina coins the cute pet name “chocolate-cream soldier” for him. The moments of farce are well-delivered for humor without ever seeming ridiculous in a way that diminishes the rest of the potency of the themes. The result is a substantive romantic comedy that makes meaningful commentary that continues to resonate.
For other plays I have reviewed, please visit:
An Enemy Of The People By Arthur Miller
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night By Eugene O’Neill
The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare
For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.