Another week, another park show…at least Ottawa in August is consistent (not the weather, obviously…what’s life without a chance of thundershowers?). And it was time at last for the granddaddy of Ottawa’s outdoor shows, from those masked marvels at Odyssey theatre, now entering their 27th season. For their latest extravaganza, nestled in their cozy stage at the North end of Strathcona Park, they’ve made a pretty nifty choice. Tapping director Andy Massingham once again (he helmed their 2012 offering THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHANCE), they’ve gone and put a mask on that old rascal George Bernard Shaw to bring new life to his classic work, ARMS AND THE MAN. At least, that was the plan, and it sounds like a good one to me.
Dealing with those two old chestnuts, love and war, ARMS opens on the home of Bulgarian aristocrats the Petkoffs (they have a library, you guys..!), where anxious mother Catherine (Doreen Taylor-Claxton) and her dreamy daughter Raina (Pippa Leslie) await news of the war with Serbia. Soon enough, they hear of a great victory attributed to Raina’s beloved, the swaggering Sergius (Dylan George), and before long routed enemy soldiers are literally being chased through the streets of their fair city. One of them, a Swiss gun-for-hire called Bluntschli (Attila Clemann) scales the Petkoff walls and seeks refuge in Raina’s room. After some initial misgivings, the girl and the soldier, who seems to prefer chocolatey treats to bullets and warfare, hit it off, and she and her Mother protect him during the siege. End of story, right..?
Until several months later, of course, when handsome Sergius and Raina’s father Paul Petkoff (David Warburton) return to the homestead, covered in glory and hopelessly struggling with the post-war paperwork. Re-enter Bluntschli, who returns suddenly, ostensibly to return the coat Raina sent him off with, but he ends up getting roped into more paperwork. Toss in a pair of scheming servants (Clare Armstrong as willful Louka, and Pierre Brault as toadying Nicola), and the stage is well and truly set for revelations and confrontations of all manner.
Andy Massingham keeps the pace quick and merry in this goddamn wonderful show, filled with some seriously hilarious exchanges and great performance. Wee Pippa Leslie makes a delightful leading lady indeed, leaping, swirling and voguing with gusto…she’s especially marvellous in her scenes opposite Clemann as earnest Bluntschli, a professional soldier who would seem to rather be doing anything BUT fighting. Dylan George, last year’s Lovebug Louie at the Ottawa Fringe, impresses as the somewhat clueless war hero Sergius, getting entangled with Clare Armstrong’s wonderfully bold Louka, who steals a few scenes with sheer force of will. Brault, Warburton and Taylor-Claxton get the masked duty in this one, and have a blast with it. In fact, that’s my one minor quibble with the show…for a masked company, there seem to be fewer and fewer of them every year. Although to be fair, the other actors do sport some cool face makeup, courtesy of the always amazing Annie Lefebvre. Shoutout to my recent stage partner Nick Fournier, who makes a memorable cameo as a uniformed soldier (and maybe Shaw himself as well, keep your eyes peeled). Odyssey has put together a very fun, very solid show, proving that Shaw works just as well under the stars and behind a mask. You’ve got until August 25th to catch it, and you’ll regret it if ya don’t. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)