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A CurtainUp Review
Arms and the Man
By Julia Furay
The play is a comic love story. Raina (Rachel Botchan) is a young lady whose starry-eyed romantic ideals are turned upside-down when a starving, exhausted, and (gasp) sensible enemy solider (Bradford Cover) stumbles onto her balcony after a battle. His arrival carries charming eye-opening repercussions for Raina and her family, which continue until the curtain comes down. It’s one of those plays in which the actors seem to be having as much fun as the audience as it offers great opportunities for hamming it up and great one-liners.
The cast knows where the laughs are. Botchan as Raina and Noel Velez as her vainglorious fiancé Sergius are certainly the most colorful characters. Both hold ludicrous ideals about romanticism and bravery. Botchan effectively portrays Raina’s unbending devotion to showy gestures and is an excellent foil to her "chocolate cream soldier." Velez generally overacts, but then the role more or less demands it, having Sergius strut around the stage saying and doing ridiculous things.
Dominic Cuskem and Robin Leslie Brown as Raina’s parents are solid, and effortlessly add to the comedic momentum onstage. And of course there’s Cover as Captain Bluntschli, who ably plays straight man to just about everyone on stage. The only off-note comes from Hana Moon as Louka, Raina’s ambitious maid. Moon portrays Louka as sulky and lazy rather than ambitious and independent, which makes the character’s journey far less compelling and humorous.
Kaikkonen’s greatest strength in directing the piece is the way he obtains able performances. The physical production isn’t quite as well-honed as the performances are. The sets (by Harry Feiner) are a little cheap looking, but they’re minimal enough to keep us focused on the characters and dialogue. Sam Fleming’s costumes, on the other hand, seem designed to call attention to themselves. They’re far too artificially bright and garish, especially Louka’s awful stripey rainbow of a peasant dress, and the Crayola military uniforms Velez and Cuskem wear. Kaikkonen's decision to keep the play divided into three acts as originally written, feels peculiar nowadays, as if we’re hardly getting into in the action before there’s another intermission.
Arms and the Man is often revived, and this Pearl production makes no attempt to bring anything new or particularly polished to the table. It is to the Pearl's credit that it nevertheless is entertaining and captures many laughs.
Editor's Note: For links to other reviews of Shaw plays and Shaw's famous quips and quotes, see our George Bernard Shaw Backgrounder
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide