KPBS AIRDATE: March 11, 2005
All’s fun in love and war – and beauty contests. Society is aptly skewered in two satirical comedies – George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” and Robert Longbottom’s “Pageant.” Human folly never looked so good.
In the 1991 musical, with book and lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, music by Albert Evans, the competition is fierce – and the contestants are, well, you might say they’re all carrying a bit of baggage. As the “Pageant” song puts it, they’ve each got “that something extra.” These are genuine, all American beauty queens – accent on the Queens. That is to say, they’re men – lovely, talented, geographically diverse and downright hilarious as they vie for the coveted title of Miss Glamouresse, spokesmodel for the wildest line of cosmetic products you’ve never seen – like Facial Spackle to fill in those ultra-deep pores and Lip Snack, for “color and calories” combined, in flavors like Poached Salmon Pink.
“Pageant” ran for 18 months Off Broadway and won an Olivier Award in London. In 2002, it played at North Coast Rep, and now, Sean Murray has brought the wild and wacky show to his Cygnet Theatre, recreating the look, the feel and Russell Garrett’s staging. Some of the side-splitting cast is back, but all the ‘girls’ are winners, even if audience members have to choose just one each night to wear the crown. It’s all supremely silly and flawlessly sleazy, though everybody plays it straight, so to speak. There’s no real social significance here; the deepest thing is those pesky pores. Expose yourself to laughs – from the Cavalcade of Talent to the Evening Gown, Bathing Suit and Emergency Beauty Counseling competitions. Prepare to re-think your conception of makeovers and the competitive edge.
Now, “Arms and the Man,’ which Shaw called his “Anti-Romantic Comedy,” forces you to re-consider heroism, bravery, war and l’amour. The play is set in Bulgaria in 1885, but it might as well have been ripped from this morning’s paper. The idealistic ingénue pines for the ‘higher love’ of her fiancé, a stalwart soldier off fighting the Good Fight. But her boudoir is invaded by an escaped officer from the other side, a dashing Realist who carries chocolates instead of ammunition. He disabuses her of romantic notions of combat, even as he conquers her heart. The knotty plot is complicated by disenchantment, love triangles, a saucy wench, a few bumbling fools, a little life-learning — and a happy ending. At Moonlight Stage Productions, the Globe’s Brendon Fox has assembled a dazzling cast. And avoided the snare of camping it up and playing for laughs. The piece is beautifully directed and acted, gorgeously costumed and endlessly engaging. So, take a comic but cold, hard look at militarism, romanticism, and heroism. War-time is Shaw-time.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.