Arms and the Man
Also see David's recent review of La Cage aux Folles
Intiman Theatre's artistic director Bartlett Sher deserves a big hand for his captivating production of Arms and the Man, which is currently delighting Seattle audiences. An exceptionally attractive and capable ensemble cast, chock-a-block with veteran Seattle faces, keeps the action brisk and the George Bernard Shaw wordplay winning, as they cavort about Edie Whitsett's handsome and uncluttered sets, adorned by Deb Trout's delicious late 1880s costumes, bathed in Peter Ksander's limpid lighting.
Though this Shaw comedy is far less familiar to the masses than his Pygmalion, it has certainly aged well, and Sher's staccato pacing never allows for any lulls, while never shifting into undue overdrive. The tale itself is a relatively simple one, lent depth and intrigue by Shaw's unparalled dexterity with the English language. A Swiss soldier of fortune, taking the side of the Serbian army in the waning days of a Balkans conflict with Bulgaria, takes refuge in the home of a Bulgarian officer, by way of his lovely daughter's window. Capt. Bluntschli beguiles his inadvertent hostess Raina Petkoff with the fact that he opts to carry chocolates rather than bullets into battle, for which she dubs him her "chocolate cream soldier." With the war's end and the return of her dithering father and posturing fiancés, Raina, her pseudo-Grande dame mother, and their household servants are forced to cover when Bluntschli returns to return Raina's father's coat which he wore to slip away in. What transpires in the wake of his return, including romantic rumblings between Raina's fiancée and surly serving maid, is played with high style and gusto.
As Bluntschli, John Procaccino is at the top of his game, in a seemingly ideal match of actor to role. Procaccino is one of Seattle's most overused actors, especially given the ratio of hits and misses he has tallied, yet here he is urbane, charming, confident, and a perfect romantic foil for Margaret Welsh's appealingly fiery and headstrong Raina. Suzy Hunt is a riot as Raina's pretentious and giddy mother, and Laurence Ballard adds to his unbroken string of successes in a deliciously dotty, playful turn as her husband Major Petkoff. Andrew Weems is the ultimate pea-brained, strutting peacock as the pompous Major Saranoff who professes his love to Raina while lusting after her haughty maid, Louka. Mari Nelson is exceptionally fine in that role, believably conveying the character's upwardly mobile ambitions, and R. Hamilton Wright as Nicola, her jilted fellow servant, invests his smallish role with an abundance of character detail and comic creativity.
This is Intiman's third version of Arms and the Man in the past twenty-five years, but Sher and company more than justify this revival, reminding us of the wit and wisdom of the estimable Mr. Shaw.
Arms and the Man runs through June 8, 2002, at Intiman Theatre in Seattle Center. For further information visit their web site at www.intiman.org