Laughs conquer all in 'Arms'
By MELISSA ROSE BERNARDO
Perhaps even more famous than "Arms and the Man" is
the story which invariably accompanies a production. It is
said that George Bernard Shaw, at "Arms"' opening, was
displeased with the play's reception. He had sent the audi-
ence into uncon-
trollable fits of
Arms Shaw must
and the Man have turned over
in his grave last
Power Center night at the Power
November 15, 1994 Center, when the
Shaw Festival be-
gan their Ann Arbor residency with a riotously funny "Arms
and the Man."
Shaw was upset, you see, because he thought that the
humor overshadowed his socio-political commentary. And
in any worthy production, it does. DirectorJim Mezon (who
also makes an appearance as the charmingly humble Bulgar-
ian servant Nicola) has made the choice of downplaying
Shaw's sermons in favor of satire and almost slapstick
physical comedy. The result is not just funny, but usually
knee-slapping, tear-jerking, laugh-until-you're-blue-in-the-
face comedy, concealing a heartful and pointed social
The setting is the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885. As
gunfire rings out in the distance, a young girl, Raina (Tracey
Ferencz), hides in her bed. A Serbian soldier, Captain
Bluntschli (Simon Bradbury), on the run climbs her balcony
to seek refuge in the house. Raina hides him and gives him
chocolate creams (which gives him the title of Chocolate
Cream Soldier). He leaves soon after, but clearly has edged
his way into Raina's heart.
Raina's father and her betrothed are both at war as well,
and Raina has many ideas about how heroic and noble
soldiers are. She is, after all, a Petkoff - a member of the
richest family in Bulgaria. When her Chocolate Cream
Soldier returns, he winds up working with Raina's father
and fiancee. Suffice it to say that no one who is in love with
anyone at the beginning of the show is in love with them at
Mezon directs this production with great ease and aplomb,
and his actors float through in much the same way. Ferencz
prances about comfortably and convincingly as the 23-year-
old Raina, putting on the marvelous uppity front required of
a Shavian heroine, a front which only Bluntschli can pen-
etrate. Norman Browning does well as Major Petkoff,
appropriately confused and red-faced, and Sarah Orenstein
is exceptional as the plucky servant Louka.
But by far the most marvelous bit of casting is Simon
Bradbury as Bluntschli, whose small stature and receding
hairline are far from characteristic of the romantic hero. But
his charm and valor soon peek through, and he wins Raina's
heart almost effortlessly. He handles all the physical com-
edy admirably well, tumbling and bumbling about like a
See ARMS, Page 11
Captain Bluntschli kisses Raina's hand after she gives him refuge and feeds
'Can't we all just live on this earth?' says the State, MTV's hot new comedy group
COULD BE AN EPIC
By KIRK MILLER
"We've been really awful to the
press," State member Michael
Showalter warned. "It has a lot to do
with Kevin (Allison, anothermember).
He's been in a huge argument with
every paper in the country."
For the 11 members of "The State,"
MTV's popular sketch comedy show,
this is not a joke. For almost a year
newspapers across the country have
assailed the show, with one paper go-
ing as far as giving it a negative two-
But along with the criticism has
come a great deal of success. In 11
months MTV has rerun the same 12
episodes almost on a nightly basis to
good ratings and a growing popularity.
So much so that the network has or-
dered two more seasons, one of which
is filming this month.
During a rather chaotic conference
call with five of the cast members, they
seemed to share a resentment of the
treatment they received.
"They (the press) are poised to hate
anything on MTV," Allison said.
"We were a batch of new faces
trying out sketch comedy," Michael
Ian Black tried to explain. "And it takes
a little bit of time to acquire the taste of
... ""People just wanted to assume it
sucked," interrupted Michael
Even more recent positive cover-
age in Entertainment Weekly was
shrugged off. "Yeah, but I wrote that
piece," Thomas Lennon laughed.
With the exception of the negative
reviews, the show has been extremely
successful after six years of being to-
gether. The cast formed while attend-
ing NYU in 1988, although Ken Marino
claimed, "We all met on a blind date."
Controversy immediately exploded
when they had to come up with a name.
"We looked at a newspaper and it
said 'New York State,"'Showalter said.
"So it was a toss-up between that and
'New York' and 'York State,"' Black
argued. "I'll tell you, it sure put us in a
state," Allison punned badly.
"Actually, we were called Pink
Floyd, but Roger Waters sued the shit
out of us," Showalter said.
After a few years of working to-
gether they landed a job performing
skits on a short lived MTV show -
"You Wrote It You Watch It" with Jon
Stewart. Soon the network decided to
give them a chance with their own
Although there have always been
the same 11 cast members (average age
of 24), the group still to this day has
only one female (Kerri Kenney). But
Marino shrugged this off.
"We killed off all the others," he
said. To compensate the group has
become proficient cross dressers and
often performs in drag, much like "Kids
in the Hall," another sore subject for
"I think we think comparisons be-
tween us and 'Kids in the Hall' are
unfair and stupid," Showalter spoke
for the group. "Sure, some of the com-
parisons are true. We do drag, they do
drag; we're not very political, they're
not very political. But I think there is a
"Actually, I do have the copyright
on drag," Allison laughed.
Although the shows do seem to be
targeting different audiences, they also
share a fascination with pop culture
and surrealism. Recent episodes have
included dancing sperm, a boy with
bologna sandwiches for feet, the joys
of eating Muppets and a fight scene
between a rough inner city gang and a
group of Amish. but one difference
"The State" has is their commitment to
stay completely self-contained. All of
the writing, editing, directing and per-
forming is done entirely by the cast.
There hasn't been too much conflict on
who gets to do each sketch.
"There's only two of us. We do all
the sketches," one of them yelled indis-
criminately in the background.
Along with their creative control is
their selection of the music, which usu-
ally coincides with most of MTV's
"We like whatever is popular,"
Showalter said. "Gin Blossoms, Stone
Temple Pilots, whatever. We all like
exactly the same music. Someone tried
to bring in aDr. John tape and we killed
Although they have creative con-
trol, all the cast admitted they are hav-
ing problems with the network censors
at the moment. But they are committed
to the network for this season and an-
other one to start filming next year.
"After that, we have no plans for
breaking up," Showalter said. "We
might stay here, go to TV elsewhere,
tour, start a band. Broadway's been
calling and trying to get us to do a
Showalter, who dominated the con-
versation, is probably the best known
cast member for his portrayal of Doug,
a teen angst victim with the tag line
"I'm outta here." (You kind of have to
see it for the humor to translate) But
there are few plans to exploit Doug in
a "Wayne's World"kind of way.
"Just between you and me, there are
merchandising plans," he laughed.
"I have a Han Solo action figure
that I dress as Doug," Marino explained.
"It doesn't look much like Doug ... but
it doesn't look that much like Harrison
With the success of Doug and an
increasing audience for the show the
cast has been trying to reach different
people with more interviews and talk-
ing to college newspapers.
"Um, M Go Blue?" said Showalter,
attempting to bond with me. Suddenly
"Hail to the Victors" began to play over
the phone and the five sang along with
their own lyrics. It was sort of touching
in a surreal kind of way.
"We have a whole 'can't we just all
live on this Earth' mentality," Showalter
tried to explain, evoking jeers from the
other cast members.
"We really do have an 'everyone's
groovy' kind of thing," Lennon
Wanted: The Best Mds in the Wr
The University of California, Davis is looking for
dedicated students interested in plant cell biology. Four-year
NSF-funded graduate fellowships are available to work in the
areas of organelle biogenesis, signal transduction, membrane
biology, and protein modification. The training program
incorporates advanced courses, workshops, lab rotations, travel
awards, seminars, research retreats...all while earning your
doctorate. Contact: Plant Cell Biology Training Program, Susan
Alvarado, Robbins Hall, University of California, Davis, CA
95616. email: swalvarado Ducdavis.edu. Fellowship recipients
must be US tittzens. nitils or rermnent resldents
Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby,
alterna-hunks Evan Dando and the
equally cute but lesser known Epic 9
Soundtracks are travelin' road
buddies on their co-headlining tour.
Yes, this is a strange bill, but the
recently shorn Evan Dando isn't
exactly Mr. Normal (did you see that
interview in "Rolling Stone"? Yikes!).
But neither is Epic Soundtracls;
he's been in bands since he was
12, most notably Crime And the City
Solution. On his own, he's released /l"
two interesting albums, the debut
"Rise Above" and his latest,
"Sleeping Star." On the new album
Soundtracks sounds like a kinder,
gentler Nick Cave, mixing the
seemingly clashing sounds of folk,
pop, lounge and country to mellow
effect. Songs like "Don't Go To
School," "Tonight's The Night (Rock
'n' Roll Lullaby)," and "Emily May
(You Make Me Feel So Fine)" are so
laid-back they would be sleep-
inducing if they weren't so catchy,
and bonus points are added for the
clever use of strings and brass.
Soundtracks and his pal Dando are
sure to wreak acoustic havoc tonight
at the Blind Pig. Tickets are a paltry
$8.50 and doors open at 9:30 p.m.
Call 996-8555 for more information,
and don't forget: Evan Dando loves *
- Heather Phares
Haircuts e Color " Perms * Nail Care
I 119 W. Washington, Ann Arbor
Monday 9-6; Tuesday - Friday 9-8; Saturday 9-6
- -w f > ,