Courtesy of The Purcellville Gazette
ARMS & THE HIGHLANDER
by David Sackrider
Published November 16, 2006
The romantic comedy "Arms and the Highlander" opened to an enthusiastic audience Nov. 10 at the Old Stone School in Hillsboro. Meredith Bean McMath directed her own script, an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man," for Aurora Studio Theatre.
McMath's adaptation transplants her characters from the Crimean War to our own Revolutionary War to make it more accessible to an American audience. Those characters are deftly portrayed by a cast that mixes Aurora regulars and excellent newcomers.
The story has little to do with a particular war than with war in general. It asks us who is a hero? What is glory? What might lie in the heart of a professional soldier, if he has one at all? McMath peels from the soldiers a few layers, a bit of brass, a tattered uniform or steely resolve, to help answer those questions.
However, the real story is neither of soldiers or soldiering, but of love. As we all know love arrives at odd times and in odd ways. Oddity as a basis for humor, though frequently used, often fails to get the job done on its own. Careful handling, giving the unbelievable a touch of plausibility, is needed to provide a context in which the comedy can ripen. McMath has taken proper care for her creation by giving it a solid story. Then she followed through with sparkling dialog. She completes her tour de force by directing her actors so that nothing is lost.
Millie Juraschek, as Betty the new American maid, stands out amongst an excellent cast. Whether delivering a lover’s ultimatum, a bit of intriguing gossip, or merely lighting candles, she flavors it with the saucy impertinence of a new society on a new continent. For Betty there is no history, only future.
Captain Hay, played by Stephen Beggs, gives us a glimpse inside the work-a-day professional soldier – how he thinks, what he respects, and how he prepares for battle (in his case involving chocolate more than gun powder). Beggs plays with a Scottish accent authentic enough to require careful concentration by his listeners.
Brittany Barrett and Penny Hauffe as Elizabeth and Catherine Littlebone, daughter and mother, develop on stage a relationship typical of parent and child. Hauffe is at her best when Catherine becomes even more giddy than Elizabeth when the daughter’s fiancé is mentioned. Barrett shows us a woman whose life, and love, has been delayed by a protracted war. She pines for her betrothed, and still yearns for excitement even coming from an unexpected front.
Her finance as played by Chris Saunders has all the answers, whether they are the right ones or not. At length he abandons his high tone and embraces the social freedom of the new America, along with a new American woman.
In every respect Aurora Studio Theatre and McMath should be proud of what they have accomplished. George Bernard Shaw should be pleased that his story has been opened to a new audience. And Purcellville should be delighted that one of its own has created such a marvelous production.
“Arms and the Highlander” at the Old Stone School in Hillsboro runs through Nov. 26 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m.