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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 22
Arms and the Man presents Shaw on stage
Arts & Entertainment
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Arms and the Man presents Shaw on stage

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Arms and the Man
Seattle Public Theater
Through June 12


George Bernard Shaw was a writer of plays that stand the test of time. He was also funny and smart and expressed his politics through his playwriting.

Arms and the Man is an early work now presenting at Seattle Public Theater. It expresses Shaw's disdain for war and the brashness of soldiers in the main character of a soldier of fortune who is almost killed, but escapes into the bedroom of a romantic and impressionable young woman who decides to hide him rather than reveal his presence.

Set in Bulgaria, a tiny country tangentially involved in a war between the Serbs and the Russians, Captain Bluntschli (Frank Lawler), a soldier for hire from Switzerland, escapes from the Russians and hides in Raina's bedroom (which he manages by pointing a gun at her head). Raina (Anne Kennedy Brady) is engaged to Sergius Saranoff (Ryan Childers), a pompous and wrongheaded officer, though she thinks he is valorous and brave, especially when she hears he led a cavalry charge.

Bluntschli describes the utter folly of that charge - directly at a battery of guns - that only worked because they ran out of ammunition. Otherwise, the cavalry would have been completely decimated. Bluntschli is Shaw's mouthpiece for the perils and dirty ugliness of war. Lawler has the right old-soldier attitude that disabuses Raina of her romantic visions of her fiancé's accomplishments.

Raina finds herself unwillingly attracted to the realism that Bluntschli represents and enlists her mother, Catherine (Julie Jamieson), to help keep him secreted. Together, they also keep the secret from returning father Paul (Gordon Carpenter), though servants Nicola (Mark Fullerton) and Louka (Brenda Joyner) probably know a lot more than they appear to.

Each of the characters hides parts of him/herself. This provides a lot of the comedy as the audience is privy to the secrets. In addition, Shaw provides for vigorous and smartly resourceful women, and also for smartly resourceful servants. This makes the play feel relevant to today's cultural milieu.

Louka is allowed to long for Saranoff herself, though possibly unattainably beyond her station in life. Nicola shows a dignity and strength as he tells Louka that he understands her interest and won't stand in her way, even though they are affianced.

Bluntschli escapes and returns as a valued advisor when the war is over (almost as soon as he escapes). Yet, he goes along with Raina and Catherine's subterfuge that they don't know him. Sergius tries to portray his love for Raina as a higher love, yet romances Louka on the side. Raina tries to convince herself that she loves Sergius, but has missed Bluntschli, whom she calls her 'chocolate cream soldier.'

Aided by an ingenious set by Richard Schaefer that comes apart in many different ways and period costumes by K.D. Schill, director Shana Bestock hits many of the right notes. Of the cast, Lawler and Jamieson are particularly good at conveying the wry humor.

Still, the overall effect is a bit flat. Part of the issue lies with Brady's Raina. Brady is a lovely young woman suited for the role, but somehow her rhythms don't seem comedic. The text implies that she's more self-aware of her silly, romantic side, yet Brady does not show that awareness. Joyner's Louka also appears more sullen than works well for the comedy, and Fullerton is sadder. The farce is missing.

It is very pleasing to see Shaw on stage. Seattle Public continues to program in a classic play each season, often re-introducing us to works that don't deserve to be forgotten.

For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call 206-524-1300.

Discuss your opinions at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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