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Love, True Love

A satire pokes fun at romantic notions

Andrew Macomber II comes home from the war to Amelia Adams.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 7/28/2010

Arms and the Man

By George Bernard Shaw

Through Aug. 1 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre

George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man isn't subtle--not that Shaw tends to be. The play isn't shy about satirizing the rich or romantic ideals, from love to heroism. Still, it has a playfulness and wit that keeps it from feeling simply heavy handed. The trick for a production of Arms and the Man is to let the satire do its work while making the characters more than mere symbols, and that is where the Spotlighters' charming production falls short.

Raina (Amelia Adams) is a rich, young Bulgarian woman in the late 1880s. Her betrothed and her father are fighting the Serbians, leaving Raina and her mother behind. When news comes that Raina's fiance Sergius (Andrew Macomber II) has lead a victorious charge against the enemy, Raina is overjoyed that he really is the romantic hero she long imagined him to be. Raina and her mother Catherine's (Sherrionne Brown) exaltations of Sergius are interrupted by news that the Serbians are retreating through town. Gunshots are heard in the street, and Catherine goes to check that the house is secure while Raina huddles in her bed.

A man in a Serbian uniform climbs in Raina's window and, at gunpoint, tells her not to cry out because he plans to take refuge in her bedroom until the coast is clear. The hostage situation turns into an odd friendship as the man, a Swiss soldier for hire named Bluntschli (Michael Leicht), tells Raina of life at war. Her mind is full of heroism and daring deeds, men not afraid to die for their beliefs. Bluntschli sees it differently--as frightened, dirty men doing anything to survive. He even mocks Sergius' great victory, which he witnessed. It was actually incredibly foolish--Sergius led his men on horseback into a wall of machine guns. If the Serbs had not been waiting on new ammunition, the Bulgarian forces would have been mowed down: "He and his regiment simply committed suicide," he says, "only the pistol misfired." Raina is aghast by Bluntschli's attitude, but she feeds him chocolates and protects him until he can make his way to safety.

The war is soon over, and Sergius and Raina's father, Petkoff (Dan Stacier), return home. The young lovers are overjoyed to see each other. "We two have found the higher love," Raina says. But the moment she leaves the room and Sergius is alone with Raina's maid Louka (Bobbi Datz), he tells her that higher love is a "very fatiguing thing to keep up for any length of time" and grabs Louka in an embrace. When Bluntschli shows up at the house to thank Raina and her mother for their help, all sorts of shenanigans ensue as the women pretend not to know him so that Sergius and Petkoff won't know they harbored the enemy--who are now their friends thanks to a new peace treaty. Raina must decide whether her heart lies with the heroic--at least as far as she knows--Sergius or the realistic Bluntschli.

Director Brad Ranno does a nice job utilizing the Spotlighters' tiny in-the-round stage, and the pacing is pleasantly brisk. Two intermissions used to change sets make the play feel particularly quick. But Ranno's decision to have his actors amp up the cartoonishness of Arms keeps the production from greatness.

Just as his Bluntschli is the voice of reason amid this histrionic family, Leicht's performance grounds the play. He makes the character formidable yet vulnerable, and makes it clear why those around him would care for the stranger. In Raina's quieter moments, Adams excels. When she delivers Raina's over the top emotions, the shrillness and mugging get old quickly, but Macomber's Sergius offers even more over-the-top antics. Macomber, so wonderful in Fells Point Corner Theatre's Journey's End earlier this year, comes off as Mighty Mouse the cad in this play, jutting out his chin and striking superhero poses. Bobbi Datz as Louka and Frank Vince as fellow servant Nicola fare much better, giving two strong performances despite the smaller roles. Stacier's Petkoff, however, lets the cast and the play down, giving a leaden performance that slows the momentum every time he steps on stage.

To be fair, Shaw wrote a highly silly play, and giving the entire production over to that frivolity is a reasonable gambit. But it makes it just a joke, muting the play's themes. And as much as the cast members appeared up to a more nuanced performance, it's a shame they weren't allowed to take it there. Still, an amusing evening at the theater.

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