Courtesy of The Blue Ridge Leader & Loudoun Today
Behind the Scenes
Aurora Studio Theatre Scores
by Mark Dewey
Published December 1, 2006
Aurora Studio Theatre's recent production, “Arms and the Highlander,” gives the impression that we modern men and women are neither as noble nor as idealistic nor as romantic as our forefathers were—but we can still put on a hell of a show.
Gone are the days when a man might seek refuge in a stranger’s house. Gone are the days when a woman, offended but not frightened by his intrusion, might begrudgingly offer him hospitality. And gone are the days when espousing ideals about courage, honor, and virtue could bring as much color to a woman’s cheek as an excellent kiss.
Gone? Was there ever such a day? “Arms and the Highlander” is good enough to make you think so.
Meredith McMath’s adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Arms and the Man” is full of exchanges that make a guy nostalgic for a language alive with wit and humor, with deliberation and suggestion, a language rich enough to express the complicated truth about each of us and thereby make it possible for us to know ourselves.
“Yes, Dear,” Mrs. Littlebone quips, for example, “the Redcoats do have better uniforms, but all the good taste in the world won’t help the British win this war.” And later Captain Hay laments that, “As a soldier, you know you’re alive, but you hope no one else will notice.”
The plot adapted from Shaw’s play is simple and predictable: a British soldier in flight from one of the last battles of the American Revolution escapes pursuers by climbing through an open window—into the bedroom of a fair Virginia maiden. As fate would have it, her father commands the regiment that just routed the British forces, and her impetuous fiancée led the decisive charge. This young woman considers herself every bit as capable of courage as a man, especially one who runs from battle, and she gathers herself to defend her honor with her life. But the situation isn’t as grave as all that. The powder in the British soldier’s pistol isn’t any good, and he’s too tired to use it anyway.
The play’s most complex character is Captain Henry Clodfelter, who complains at one point that he is really five different people: a hero, a buffoon, a humbug, a blackguard, and a coward, and that he’s never sure which man will speak when he opens his mouth. Though Clodfelter has some great lines—“Everything I think is a mockery of everything I do!”—Chris Saunders relies on body language to communicate much of what Clodfelter can’t say about himself. Most of the time Saunders keeps his back to the other actors, allowing the audience to watch his eyelids flutter when he sees things that sting and his chin swivel back and forth as he chews on unpalatable truths.
“Why, that’s either the finest display of heroism or the most crawling baseness I’ve ever seen!” Clodfelter declares at one point, and he seems genuinely shocked to realize that he can’t tell those two things apart. So are we all: that’s why we laugh.
Clodfelter’s rival in complexity and depth is Betty, the servant girl who considers the revolution an invitation to upward mobility. Like Henry, she often turns her back on her companions to show that she can’t see herself among them. Millie Juraschek, who plays Betty, communicates as much with her eyes—rolling them, cutting them back and forth, or simply staring---as many actors convey in entire soliloquies. Her disdain for the people she serves is obvious every time she looks at them, and when she speaks about her future one feels quickened by that glorious human capacity to look up from lowliness to something higher, to something that lifts all of us.
The cast is rounded out by an ensemble of superb actors whose talents one might rather expect to find in Washington than in Hillsboro: Brittany Barrett as Elizabeth, the young maiden who finally admits that her noble mien is a façade; Penny Hauffe as Catherine, Elizabeth’s tasteful mother; Ernie Carnevale as Major Littlebone, the hapless revolutionary who isn’t even in command of his own household; Phil Erickson as Frederick, the manservant whose bourgeois ambitions satirize the meanness of the merchant class; and Stephen Beggs as Captain Hay, the Highlander who barges into lives that aren’t prepared for him.
Aurora Studio Theatre was founded in the fall of 2004 by McMath and a group of like-minded theater-enthusiasts. They stage their productions in Hillsboro’s Old Stone School Theater with the generous support of The Virginia Commission for the Arts, The Robey Foundation, and other donors. Aurora's next production, "Treasures: The Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer," was written by local artists Dolly Stevens and Tom Sweitzer. Auditions are Saturday, December 2, and the show opens March 9. For more information, call 540-338-3493.