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Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Arms and the Man
The Old Globe

Marsha Mason and Conrad John Schuck
George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man is a relatively early work, written before Shaw got into his preachy period (he had, however, by this point developed the habit of drafting elaborate staging directions). Shaw billed this play as an "anti-romantic comedy," but given how contemporary film scripts have twisted the genre, it plays as anything but. In director Jessica Stone's hands, Shaw's satire comes across as conventional fodder for the plot's occasional twists.

Shaw set his plot against the relatively amateur militarism of the Serbo-Bulgarian War. It opens with news that Major Sergius Saranoff (Enver Gjokaj) has just made himself a hero by defying orders and going his own way in battle—with a certain degree of accidental success. But, in the chaos of the battle, Saranoff's beloved, Raina (Wrenn Schmidt), her mother (Marsha Mason), and Louka (Sofiya Akilova), a servant, have conspired to shelter Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary. In the process, Raina has become infatuated with the man she's hidden, though she aids him in slipping away by lending him one of her father's (Conrad John Schuck) overcoats.

We haven't seen the last of the good captain—or the overcoat—and it turns out that Saranoff hasn't been as devoted to Raina as her parents and she had thought. By the end of act three, lovers end up together in ways that satisfy all concerned. But, essentially, Shaw's satire has vanished into a fairly predictable comedy of manners.

The Old Globe has given Arms and the Man a sumptuous production. Long-time associate artist Ralph Funicello has designed a different unit set for each act, and David Israel Reynoso's period costume design looks handsome on the performers. Austin R. Smith's lighting design makes sets, costumes, and actors look smooth and creamy, and Mark Bennett contributed effective original music and sound design—though the hit of the evening is the live violin serenading done by Ernest Sauceda. Mr. Sauceda works the audience during both intermissions and provided transitions to the act that followed.

It is difficult for me to comment on the acting, as lead Zach Appelman (Captain Bluntschli) had developed laryngitis the day of the performance I saw. Jake Millgard, a Master of Fine Arts student in the program operated jointly by the Globe and the University of San Diego, went on holding the script and with minimal rehearsal. Of course, the company was hyper-alert and watching for any potential need to cover for the substitute leading man. In this situation, Ms. Mason and Mr. Schuck, experienced pros that they are, held things together particularly well. I'm happy to report that everyone came through the experience like a trooper, and the audience rewarded the cast with generous applause at the curtain.

Ms. Stone stepped in a year ago to direct the Globe's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike after the death of director Nicholas Martin. In that production, as well as this one, she has proved effective in fluid cast movement and in creating effective stage pictures, but the cast's ability to "land" the production's humor seems to rest with individual actors.

Arms and the Man continues until June 14, 2015. Tickets, starting at $29, are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], by visiting the Old Globe box office at 1363 Old Globe Way in San Diego's Balboa Park, or online at Up next is the Globe/Hartford Stage co-production of Kiss Me, Kate.

The Old Globe presents Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Jessica Stone, with Scenic Design by Ralph Funicello, Costume Design by David Israel Reynoso, Lighting Design by Austin R. Smith, and Original Music and Sound Design by Mark Bennett.

The cast includes Sofiya Akilova (Louka), Zach Appelman (Captain Bluntschli), Enver Gjokaj (Major Sergius Saranoff), Greg Hildreth (Nicola), Marsha Mason (Catherine Petkoff), Jake Millgard (Russian Soldier), Ernest Sauceda (Village Musician), Conrad John Schuck (Major Paul Petkoff), Wrenn Schmidt (Raina Petkoff). Mr. Millgard substituted for Mr. Appelman at the performance I saw, and Patrick Zeller covered Mr. Millgard's role.

Photo credit: Jim Cox

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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