Review: Arms and the Man

The Guthrie takes on George Bernard Shaw’s classic parody with a cast full of acting greats.

Soldiers bearing arms and riding horses face off with one another amidst the mountainous territory of Eastern Europe. Their red and blue coats clash as they climb over fallen comrades and draw their swords to fight. And, with their six inches of height and cardboard build, they’re the perfect stage accessory for the Guthrie’s latest production, Arms and the Man.

A parody by George Bernard Shaw, the play centers on the wealthy Petkoff family of Bulgaria during the Servo-Bulgarian War of 1885. While the war sets the scene for the play, that’s all it does: serious undertones and moral conflict are more or less cast aside in favor of outrageous characters and twisted love triangles. Shaw makes his comedic intensions clear 10 minutes into the first act when Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss soldier fighting for the Serbian army, ungracefully stumbles into the bedroom of Raina, the fearlessly adventurous—and romantic—daughter of Major Petkoff, the Bulgarian army’s leader. She is also the fiancé of Major Sergius Saranoff, the flamboyantly clueless soldier whose personality is as phony as his mustache is curly. Instead of reporting the Bluntschli’s intrusion, Raina decides to save him, hiding him from a Russian soldier and sating his intense desire for the one thing every soldier craves after year of intense, endless battle: chocolate. A series of overly dramatic flourishes by Raina (Mariko Nakasone) and perfectly timed responses from Bluntschli (Jim Lichtscheidl) ensue, setting the tone for the rest of the play.

Punch lines and one-on-one dialogue dragged a bit during the first two acts, but the third act was full of ah-hah! moments and tangible chemistry, ending things on a high note. Offsetting the play’s minor timing hiccups were the lively performances by Kate Eifrig, Peter Michael Goetz, Michael Schantz, Lichtscheidl, and Nakasone, each uniquely funny and highly entertaining. All in all, Arms and the Man has all the elements a comedy needs to succeed. Give it a couple weeks, and instead of just chuckling along, audiences will be slapping their knees and doubling over thanks to Shaw’s timeless humor and the cast’s addictive energy.

Arms and the Man
Playing through May 5, 2011