Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 22, 2015
What could be better than punching holes in the grandiosity of the rich, the absurdity of war and the inanity of romanticized ideals of love? Having all this skewering come from the witty, acid-dipped pen of George Bernard Shaw, that’s what.
“Arms and the Man,” which premiered in 1894, is an early work by the brilliant Irish playwright, founder of the London School of Economics. It’s less acerbic and didactic than some of his later creations. And, in a gorgeously designed production at The Old Globe, it’s unabashedly amorous – though it calls itself an “anti-romantic comedy.” Despite the ridiculous posturing and pomposity of its misguided characters, this is a completely romantic romp.
Once you strip away the artifice of idealized love, the real thing can happen – even crossing the ostensibly insurmountable boundaries of country and class.
It all takes place in a rustic, faux-luxurious Bulgarian mansion, during the short-lived 1885 Serbo -Bulgarian war.
Raina, perfectly embodied by Wrenn Schmidt, has a wildly unrealistic vision of nationalism, heroism and l’amour . She’s engaged to a Major, the majorly mustachioed Sergius , a bumbling, bombastic buffoon hilariously played by Enver Gjokaj . Raina is disabused of her illusions by the no-nonsense Swiss mercenary, Capt. Bluntschli , who climbs a drainpipe to escape the fighting, seeking refuge in her boudoir. As Bluntschli , Zach Appelman is adorably adroit; the man abhors battle, and carries sweets instead of bullets in his ammo bag. And so, the dreamy but steely Raina dubs him her “chocolate cream soldier.” Other members of the supposedly high-end household include a couple of disgruntled servants and their pretentious masters.
A few mis -communications, stolen moments and hidden mementos later, all the appropriate hookups sort themselves out, to satisfying effect.
Director Jessica Stone wrings all the humor and hypocrisy from the 19th century classic, which in its anti-war sentiments remains eternally relevant.
The ensemble, design, costumes and roving violinist are a sheer delight. It all adds up to a confection as irresistible as chocolate cream candy.
“Arms and the Man ” runs through June 14 in the Old Globe Theatre.
©2015 PAT LAUNER