Arms and the Man, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
Arms and the Man

The Little Beast… Oh, if I had him here, I’d cram him with chocolate creams till he couldn’t ever speak again! — Raina

Arms and the Man
Rachel Bochan as Raina Petkoff and Bradford Cover as Captain Bluntschli in Arms and the Man. (Photo: Gregory Costanzo )
There’s a good reason why George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man has been an audience favorite since it premiered in 1894. It’s clever, it’s funny, the characters are likable, and then there’s that Shavian intellect to give it a hint of depth. The Pearl Theatre Company’s production, directed by Gus Kaikkonen, may not quite reach the comic, intellectual, or theatrical heights the play is capable of achieving, but it’s a nevertheless amusing.

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

Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Cast: Richard Bolster (Russian Officer), Rachel Botchan (Raina Petkoff), Bradford Cover (Captain Bluntschli), Robin Leslie Brown (Catherine Petkoff), Dominic Cuskern (Major Paul Petkoff), T.J. Edwards (Nicola), Hana Moon (Louka), Noel Velez (Major Sergius Saranoff)
Set Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Sam Fleming
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Sara Bader

Running time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes with two ten-minute intermissions
The Pearl Theatre, 80 St. Mark’s Place, 212-598-9802,
From September 29-December 23; opening 10/8/06
Performance schedule through Nov. 5: Tues @ 7 pm; Wednesday @ 2 pm; Fri @ 8 pm, Sat @ 8pm; Sun @ 2pm. Beginning Nov 10, Arms and the Man will play in repertory with The School For Wives. Performance schedule: Nov 18 @ 2pm, Nov 24-25 @ 2 pm, Nov 28 @ 7 pm, Dec 3 @ 7pm, Dec 8 @ 8pm, Dec 10 @ 7pm, Dec 16 @ 2pm, Dec 17 @ 7pm, Dec 21 @ 8pm, Dec 23 @ 8pm.
Tickets: $40 to $50. Youth and Senior Tickets: $20 weekdays and $25 weekends. Remaining tickets can be purchased at a reduced price by people 24 and younger or 65 and older on the day of performance, one half-hour prior to curtain, subject to availability. Valid for 1 ticket only per ID in person at the box office. Thursday Rush Tickets: Remaining tickets are available for $10 for Thursday 8pm performances 15 minutes prior to curtain.
Reviewed by Julia Furay based on October 8th performance.

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