Fall Mainstage: “Arms and the Man”

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The fall Mainstage production has been announced. “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw will premiere at the Margaret Jonsson Theater on Oct. 30. 

The title “Arms and the Man” comes from the first line of the “Aeneid,” “of arms and man I sing.” 

“[Shaw] thinks his audience is going to know their Virgil,” said Stefan Novinski, who will direct the play. Novinski describes the play as almost like a “fairy tale.” 

Set during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885, the play focuses on Raina Petkoff, a young woman engaged to a Bulgarian war hero. She dreams of her beloved after learning that he has won the war with a brilliant tactical advance. The peace is suddenly disturbed by an enemy soldier climbing through her window. He is a fugitive from the defeated Serbian army, and, in a fit of irrationality, she agrees to hide him. 

She and the fugitive strike up an unlikely friendship as he tells her about the war. The girl learns that her beloved won only because the Serbians’ firearms malfunctioned and that he is, in fact, a hapless leader. They discuss the heroic versus brutal sides of war, and the girl begins to question her dreamy ideals. In act two, continuing with the airy — and tritely comedic — theme, the fugitive returns, and a love triangle ensues between the “war hero,” the fugitive and the fair maiden.

At first glance, the play seems to be about the dichotomy between the concept of a glorious war and its disturbing reality. Further examination, however, shows that the play possesses a more profound meaning. It is about growing up and who to love. 

“The play is both about these romantic ideas about what war is and deeper in the play [about] who should I marry?” Novinski said. “Who should I be attracted to?” 

“Arms and the Man” juxtaposes stringent ideas on how things should be with the messier — and often more fulfilling — reality of life. 

“There’s a debate all the way through [the play]: am I allowed to fall in love with somebody?” Novisnki said. “Does it fit what I’ve been told to fall in love with?” 

The maiden and the fugitive are attracted to each other because when together they are free to be utterly themselves, without pretending. The maiden and the hero, on the other hand, idolize each other and act a certain way to impress one another. It is a play about how people often create a fake persona in order to attract companionship, but also about how the most fulfilling, gritty and passionate moments of life occur when this false persona is stripped away. 

“Be prepared to feel things that you had no idea would happen … there is something much deeper [going on] than what is happening,” said Junior Sam Chiodo, who plays Major Paul Petkoff. “It is very funny [and] whimsical. I like to think of it as dry humor.” 

“I want the audience to be prepared for one of the wittiest comedies they’ve ever seen, that calls into question social structures,” Novinksi said.

The choice of “Arms and the Man” is tailored to the University of Dallas community. From a title quoting Virgil to a plot that examines marriage, being your true self, and the inevitable turmoil that comes with being young and in love, it brings to mind issues that we all face in college — and throughout our lives. 

“I recognize [these] topic[s] … and what you face from 18 to 22,” Novinski said. 

To paraphrase Avengers’ “Endgame,” “Arms and the Man” is about becoming who you are instead of who you are supposed to be. Take the time to go see it, starting on Oct. 30. It promises to be an entertaining and resonant work of art. 

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