Monday, March 29, 2010

Arms and the Man and other Shaw stuff

I'm reading St. Joan now. I like it. What's the deal with Arms and the Man? In St. Joan the stakes are apparent, I can't figure out what's so important to everybody in Arms.

The sham of romanticizing both love and war. (Which every second play at the time was doing.)
Blunt-schli (note the name) is a down-to-earth realist--who gets bowled over by Raina. And he knows it. He chuckles at her romantic notions even as he sees her slender neck in the moonlight and the play of her breasts beneath her negligee.

Raina thinks it's magnificent that her boyfriend is fighting in Iraq, defending freedom, storming through the desert--just like in all the books and movies. (Remember?: We'll be treated as liberators. They'll be dancing in the streets.)
But there's a Louka inside Raina too. She just has to try to keep that straight-shooter-within in check.

Raina and Sergius act all the time the way people going on their first date (or at the prom) do. Hence, "very tiring thing to keep up".
Both Sergius and Raina want to be perfect, the way books and ideals tell them a man and woman should be. (I remember as a student thinking just before each quarter of school that THIS time I'd be different, I wouldn't make all the same mistakes I made the last quarter, that I would be a better friend, that I wouldn't miss any classes, etc.)
But...they're human. Rats. Surely you can relate to: "which of the many Sergiuses tumbling about inside me is the real one?"
What's important to them? Being perfect. Living up to those ideals we are all presented with all the time.
But they're not perfect, they're human. How does that manifest itself in each of them?
By the way, there are people who try to be the perfect cynic or the perfect skeptic--know any of them?--and in trying to live up to THAT ideal, they're just being their own versions of Raina and Sergius. It can take a bit of courage to admit that there's a Raina or Sergius in yourself.

Bluntschli--he's Swiss with a shopkeeper's mentality. ("The Swiss national character.") Feet planted firmly on the ground. Do your job well, take no unnecessary chances. Save your ass, climb the rainspout. And then: ohmygod, she's exquisite!

Do you know Man and Superman? Without it, there never would have been Hollywood screwball comedies.

Vitality. Conviction. Shaw people have passions and they love to debate them, to argue, to interrupt one another, to agree, to object. And they have the gift of language. Think about those passionate debates/arguments/discussions that you must have had late into the night about theatre and acting and art and commerce and maybe religion. Surely there was a Jack Tanner among them. And lots of Tavies in the theatre department. And Sergiuses who believe in the purity and perfection of theatre and who scorn LA--and yet in their heart of hearts.....

Find Shaw people at The Poet's Corner in London where people literally bring their soap boxes and get up on them and start passionate discussions about ideas that they really care about.
Shaw found drama in conversation--but what talk! And comedy. He loved upsetting the applecart. There's an Irish leprechaun in each of his characters just delighting in pulling the rug out from an opponent or popping somebody's pretentious balloon or--well, you come up with your own metaphors. So long as you get to the sheer joy of engaging in passionate, witty, brilliant debate with intellectual and passionate equals. They play this game as professional tennis players play tennis--swift, powerful, relentless--and they don't often miss the goal, which is scoring the point, catching the opponent off guard, getting the audience to cheer. (This is what makes the last scene between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle a great battle of wits between intellectual equals and not a sentimental love story.)
Or think of a great basketball game--with a little Harlem Globetrotters capability at any moment just to keep everyone off balance a bit.

What's at stake? Humanity! Western civilization! Shaw really was a revolutionary. He joined the Fabian Society. Was shy as a youth, tongue-tied. He stuttered. He joined a debating society and found his voice in his passionate convictions about politics and society and the place of women, etc. etc.
But he also discovered that the best way to make people think was to get them to laugh first. Disarm them with a laugh and they are open to hearing an idea.
And he would do anything to get your attention: from the lowest kind of slapstick (Raina's father comes home and Mrs. Petkoff gets him a cup of strong Bulgarian coffee while Raina finds a pillow for his chair and Louka takes her good ole time going for Nicola to help the old man with his boots) to the momentous crackling of the ideas in the tent scene of St. Joan where the future of nationalism and religion and politics is at stake.

Shaw believes in reason, the power of reason to change the world--as all great comedy writers do from Aristophanes on.
Shaw could release the passionate believer inside YOU, he could get you on your toes, get your tongue on fire with your intellect and your convictions. He could give you the courage to leap into the arena and fight brilliantly and passionately for your convictions. Look at Marchbanks in Candida. See how he deals with Morell, who is much bigger, stronger, revered--and physically capable of knocking his little head off. Take a look at Bentley in Misalliance. Shaw's geniuses.

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