Soldiers and sex

Some people make fun of the military in movies, witty jokes, or editorial cartoons. Holly Thuma chose an 18th-century play; she directed George Farquhar’s satire The Recruiting Officer for the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre. The play mocks Britain’s military recruiters, notorious for tricking people to sign up to fight, and takes place during the War of the Spanish Succession.

In the play, recruiting officers Plume and Kite visit a small village in search of two things: soldiers and sex. While pursuing the former, they attract the locals using a variety of tactics; Plume seduces a girl to convince his brother to enlist, and Kite imitates a fortune teller spouting unrealistic tales of glory. The pair then takes a handful of deviants to court, where the judges rule that they should go to war.

As for sex, Plume visits Silvia, a former flame who lives in the village, but a misunderstanding threatens their budding re-relationship. Suspicious that Plume cannot keep his, ahem, sword in his pants, Silvia disguises herself as a man and convinces Plume to enlist her. Plume wrestles with his mysterious attraction to Silvia-the-man, until he eventually discovers his he to be a she. Meanwhile, Plume’s fellow officer Brazen and upper-class friend Worthy butt heads over Melinda, Silvia’s cousin.

Perhaps the performance’s most impressive actor was Lily Junker, playing Silvia, who had to deliver a feminine whim and a masculine strut, and delivered both flawlessly. J.J. Jackson (Plume) portrayed a philanderer, but a loveable one. His only faux pas came during his serenade of an audience member; his voice, had the scenario been real, might have sent the girl running. Playing Brazen, Patrick Burger combined all the stiffness of the 18th century with the awkwardness we’ve come to expect from characters like Napoleon Dynamite. Also impressive were Lauren Ann Diesch handling the prissy Melinda; Tom Chun, who kept Worthy’s romantic tendencies in check; and John Fallon, who portrayed a perfectly over-the-top country bumpkin named Bullock.

Juggling cross-dressing, misunderstanding, and outdated language, the students performing The Recruiting Officer took on a difficult task. “We’re not a conservatory by any stretch of the imagination,” Thuma said. “[So] they don’t have a lot of training.” Most of the students in the Pitt Rep are only actors by hobby, though some are studying theater. The Recruiting Officer is part of Pitt’s theater curriculum, another reason why Thuma was interested in putting it on. “We thought it was a good idea to work on the play as a play, since they learn about the time period and that sort of thing,” she said. As a period piece, The Recruiting Officer also necessitated careful costuming and set design, both of which were handled masterfully.

Though The Recruiting Officer is set hundreds of years ago, Thuma believes that the content is still relevant. She was inspired to direct the play after her son was followed by a van of recruiters, who made unrealistic offers in an attempt to enlist him. Thuma said, “I think that the recruiting business is the same as it always was.”