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Arms and the Man

Jonathan Retartha | Thursday, April 22, 2004

The curtain will fall one last time this weekend for the department of film, television and theater as it presents its final Mainstage production at Washington Hall, George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.” The comedy, written in 1894, tells the story of the Petkoff family during the war between Bulgaria and Serbia. The Petkoffs are one of the most affluent families in Bulgaria, with the family’s patriarch, Major Petkoff holding one of the highest positions in the Bulgarian army. Major Petkoff’s daughter, Raina, is also betrothed to another highly ranked officer, Sergius. One night, as Raina is dreaming about the heroic actions of her father and fiancée, she is surprised in her room by a Swiss solider, Captain Bluntschli, who is fighting on the side of Serbia. He hides in her room overnight to escape the Bulgarian soldiers and develops a friendship with Raina, who does not want to see him captured or killed. Bluntschli also manages to distort Raina’s heroic image of her fiancée. He discredits the heralded cavalry charge of Sergius by telling how the Serbs simply were not delivered bullets in time. Several months later, the war comes to an end and Major Petkoff returns home with Sergius, who has decided to leave the military after he failed to receive a promotion. The two tell stories of their travels, including one encounter with a Swiss soldier who managed to find shelter in a young Bulgarian girl’s room during an attack. Raina and her mother realize the two have met Captain Bluntschli, and when Bluntschli returns to the home to give back a coat Raina lent him, an awkward reunion ensues for everyone involved. Raina is troubled by the lie she must now upkeep, but little does she know of the forbidden desires of her fiancée, Sergius, who longs for an affair with the family housekeeper. These romantic plot twists and love triangles add a great deal of comedy to a play filled with dialogue about the nature of war and the status of servants and their masters in society.Tom Barkes is the acting manager of the Washington Hall facility. For 19 years, he has seen numerous plays. Student and professional plays, conferences, concerts and other shows have passed through the doors of Washington Hall. Built in 1881, the facility was used for a multitude of exhibitions and events, including graduation. “Everything was there, anything they had going,” Barkes said. “When I first started here, a lot of different classes were here ’til DeBartolo [Hall] was built.” The building itself is actually the second Washington Hall on campus. The first one was torn down when the current one was erected. Like the main building, it used to have steps that led up to the performance hall. The building went through a major renovation during 1983-84, where much of the building was repainted and much of the original artwork was covered up. The most important piece of art was the one by which the building was named. “It used to have a picture of George Washington above the stage,” Barkes said. Along with the Washington mural, there were also paintings of Shakespeare, Descartes and some of the Greek muses, to name a few. Barkes also adds in regards to the large chandelier that originally adorned the main performance hall, “I think it was the first building on campus that was built with electricity.” Barkes is also very thankful that Washington Hall has escaped some of the types catastrophes that have plagued the Main Building over the years. “We’ve been very lucky, we have stayed pretty safe.” In regards to the many performances he has seen during his tenure, Barkes enjoys both the student and professional performances equally, but notes that, “Sometimes the student groups will surprise you, and that’s when it’s the most fun.” One of Barkes’s favorite performances was Amadeus, during the 1987-88 school year. As Barkes recalls, “When we sold out before we opened, that was a fun production.” He also remembers 1990 – “The first time that Actors from the London Stage came; that blew me away.” This fall the Mainstage productions, along with a great number of film, television and theater courses will move to the new Marie P. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Located on the south part of DeBartolo quad, it houses a 900-seat concert hall, a 350-seat Mainstage theater, a 200-seat THX-Certified theater, a 100-seat organ hall and a 100-seat studio theater. “It’ll be interesting to see what impact the new performing arts center will have on the cultural life of the students here,” Barkes said. Barkes recognizes the need for increased emphasis on the arts at Notre Dame. “We have sorely missed that at this institution for a long time. I think that we have been pretty consistent [with the student participation], but I don’t think that the student body as a whole has been as excited about what goes on at Washington Hall as they used to,” Barkes said. “I don’t know the reason for that, but my sense is that the new Performing Arts Center will offer a great boost to the visibility of the arts on campus.”As for the future of Washington Hall, Barkes already has a full schedule lined up for next year, noting, “Gosh, except for the beginning of the year … it really is just as busy as it was this year.” Washington Hall will be the new home for the Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company, which usually performs at the small Hesburgh Center theater or in other small theaters around campus. It will also continue to house the Pasquerilla East Musical Company and the St. Ed’s Players. In addition, the hall will present next year’s Notre Dame Literary Festival, Jazz Festival, Opera Workshop, Irish Dancing Workshop, the Farley Hall Players and O’Neill Hall’s Queen of ND. Barkes is also very excited about the Student Union Board’s involvement next year with Washington Hall. “SUB is going to try to do something every Friday before a football game,” Barkes said. As for this weekend’s performance, “Arms and the Man” is a dialogue rich play that is beautifully brought to life by all of the actors involved. A wonderfully produced play, it is very deserving of its historical place as the last Mainstage performance at Washington Hall. George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” performs at Washington Hall and started Wednesday, running through Saturday. Tonight’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s performances are at 7:30 p.m, and Sunday’s is set for 2:30 p.m. General admission tickets are available at the LaFortune box office for $10, senior citizens for $9 and all students for $7.