Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) - Notes from the Director
On one level, Arms and the Man is a delightful romantic comedy. (G.B.
Shaw would probably punch me in the face for saying that.) But it also
simultaneously pokes fun at society (making it a lovely companion
piece with The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened a year after
Arms) while it dissects and discusses the morality of war in comic and
complicated ways (making it perfect to be in repertory with Julius
Caesar and The Life of King Henry the Fifth).
If you’ve never seen a play written by Shaw, Arms is a delicious starting
point. If you’re already familiar with Shaw, then you probably know
what a treat you’re in for at today’s show. The ASC has only done Shaw
once – Saint Joan on the 2002 Bright Heaven of Invention Tour (also in
rep with H5). I think Shaw suits the ASC aesthetic beautifully.
As the Artistic Director of an internationally-renowned SHAKESPEARE
company whose home is the world’s only re-creation of SHAKESPEARE’s
indoor theatre, I always have to seek a delicate balance when making
final decisions about which NON-Shakespeare titles we will produce. We
don’t do mechanical revolves, recorded sound effects, or special spooky
lights. Rather than using modern technology to build a world of illusion
(the way a film would do), we’re committed to using Shakespeare’s
staging conditions, the Blackfriars Playhouse, and great language to
create theatre of the imagination. We’re looking for language-based
plays that work when we leave the lights on the audience and speak
directly to you, making you part of the world of the play. Not every play
works in these staging conditions. But Shaw’s do.
Shaw liked to write about his plays. A lot. He often pits his own flavor
of “natural morality” against the “romantic morality” he disliked. Arms
was supposed to be a “pleasant play” that was “humorously serious” and
did not address social problems, but rather took a traditional drama plot
and set up “a conflict between real life and the romantic imagination”
found in popular theatre of the time. Shaw believed that modern society
had achieved a state where the conventional ideas of good and evil were
no longer relevant – the stuff that creates the most good and happiness
should be considered “moral.” He championed that this natural morality
could not be codified into a system of rules: each person should decide
for him/herself what was right or wrong in each situation. Whatever
enhances our existence is good; whatever makes life more difficult is
bad. It sounds like a Facebook meme, but Shaw’s morality boils down to:
a lie is good if it saves a life; a lie is bad if it hurts someone.
Part of what makes Arms so tasty in repertory with JC and H5 is how
this morality is applied to war. Like Shakespeare’s two plays in this
rep, Arms wrestles with true and false ideas of courage, honesty, glory,
patriotism, and love. War is not necessarily heroic. And in spite of how
heavy all this talk of morality is, Arms is flat-out charming and funny.
Come take this humorously serious ride with us.
Artistic Director and Co-founder