The reviews are in for “Arms and the Man”

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Mariko Nakasone (Raina Petkoff) and Jim Lichtscheidl (Captain Bluntschli) in the Guthrie Theater production of “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw.

All photos by Michal Daniel

George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man runs through May 8 at the Guthrie Theater. Here’s a description of the show from the Guthrie’s website:

A romantic comedy armed with chocolate.

As a young lady awaits the return of her heroic fiancé from war, a disheveled soldier sneaks into her bedroom fleeing the fight. Finding his simplicity more alluring than her fiancé’s arrogant posturing, she’s faced with singling out the real man for her. Will it be the “accidental hero” who is more toy than soldier? Or the pragmatic “coward” who comes armed with chocolates instead of bullets? Crackling with wit, irony and charm, Shaw’s romantic comedy pokes fun at the dangers of bravado in battle and idealistic notions of love.

What follows are excerpts from four reviews of the production from various local media. I find it interesting that the critics agree it’s a fine, witty production, with a lovely set and lush costumes. But several seem to be left wanting more… something “for the ages” and “challenging,” not “merely entertaining.”

Read on, and let us know what you think in the comments section:

From Jay Gabler at TC Daily Planet

The Guthrie Theater’s current production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man is like a pop-up to center field: it connects, it flies by, and it lands, but in the end, you haven’t necessarily touched any bases.

This lavish production, directed by Ethan McSweeny on the McGuire Proscenium Stage, emphasizes Shaw’s broad comedy while blunting his attacks. Every actor overplays, with the exception of J.C. Cutler (as a frustrated but dignified servant) and Lichtscheidl, cast against type as the dry Captain Bluntschli. It’s a fine cast to watch plump themsleves up–Peter Michael Goetz and Kate Eifrig appear as Raina’s parents, and Schantz plays his character as being just smart enough to realize how ridiculous he is–but a tougher, more intimate production might have more forcefully delivered Shaw’s acid social observations.

… Indeed, this production provides plenty of comfortable laughs. If you’re looking to be challenged, though, look elsewhere.

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Kate Eifrig (Catherine Petkoff), Peter Michael Goetz (Major Paul Petkoff), Mariko Nakasone (Raina Petkoff) and Michael Schantz (Major Sergius Saranoff) in the Guthrie Theater production of “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw.

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:

Ethan McSweeny’s production stretches the natural farce in Shaw’s spoof of war and social class — sometimes too far but mostly to good effect. Everything looks great, but whatever feelings the piece evokes soon fade. It’s a nice, tidy evening of theater.

McSweeny and set designer Walt Spangler have created an appealing container. The proscenium is turned into a Tyrolean jewel box with miniature toy soldiers arrayed along the stage front. As the curtain rises, Raina Petkoff’s bedroom sits in the midst of a starry night and snowcapped mountains.

Raina is the daughter of Major Paul Petkoff, who is off fighting the Serbo-Bulgarian war. Mariko Nakasone gives this delicate creature a fine sense of regal insolence befitting her privilege.

Then, a Serbian partisan stumbles into her room seeking refuge from the fray. Jim Lichtscheidl’s Captain Bluntschli is war weary yet worldly enough to smile at Raina’s naive arrogance about war. After all, her fiancé led the charge that forced Bluntschli’s flight.

…McSweeny’s production holds the proper tension between Lichtscheidl’s well-articulated Bluntschli and the whole Bulgarian gaggle of softheaded bourgeoisie. At times the exaggeration is just right, as when Nakasone’s Raina swoons onto a fainting couch after being forced to tell a lie. In other moments, though, the actors’ self awareness — and awareness of the audience — diminishes rather than heightens the ridiculous farce.

Murrell Horton’s costumes are lovely — even when expressed in Bluntschli’s raggedy uniform. Time passes pleasantly enough, but on the walk home we feel we were merely entertained by an old-fashioned comedy. Others can judge for themselves whether that is sufficient.

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Mariko Nakasone (Raina Petkoff) and Michael Schantz (Major Sergius Saranoff) in the Guthrie Theater production of “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw.

From Dominic P. Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

The scenic design for the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Arms and the Man” is more about suggestion than representation: There’s enough furniture and background clutter to suggest the bedroom, the garden or the library of an upscale European house in the 1880s, but little in the way of walls to provide certain and specific definition to the space.

The same might be said for Ethan McSweeny’s free-floating, workmanlike staging of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy about war and peace, love and marriage, class and aspiration: It’s pretty and it’s light, but it doesn’t have much to ground it.

McSweeny doesn’t exactly crack the whip on the text — the methodical scene-setting during which furniture and props are put in place by servants at the beginning of the show telegraphs that this will be a leisurely paced production. And the director seems uncertain whether he wants his production to be a broad, winking, self-aware comedy (as indicated by the wry intermezzo between the first and second acts) or a more cerebral, mannered evening of humor and insight designed to generate more smiles than laughter.

That indecision permeates his cast, which sometimes seems to be carrying out very different marching orders….

Taken together, “Arms and the Man” McSweeny and his cast produce a staging of a Shaw classic that’s consistently competent but seldom anything more. It’s nothing for the ages, and it’s unlikely to win new converts for the prolific playwright.

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Mariko Nakasone (Raina Petkoff) and Jim Lichtscheidl (Captain Bluntschli) in the Guthrie Theater production of “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw.

From John Olive at HowWasTheShow.com:

In Arms And The Man (on the Guthrie’s McGuire Stage, through May 8 ) George Bernard Shaw hides deep cynicism in plain sight, behind a veneer of flashy dialogue, sweet romance, giddy farce, lovable preening upperclass characters. We laugh, get pulled in by high energy antics, we have a wonderful time. But Shaw, the sly cynic/puppeteer, hovers: Heroism in war? Ha. Romantic love? Ha. Shaw will have none of it and those of us who, despite the buffeting of the years, retain a small belief in these things are likely to have a problem with this piece. There is definite tension in the air.

But good tension. And Arms And The Man, one of the playwright’s first successes (1894), contains more than enough hijinks to make us forget, for long periods of time, GBS’s nastiness….

Director Ethan McSweeny ups the “fun” quotient by employing louche and (dare I say?) cheap elements of farce: miniature popping cannons, a bizarre snow-capped set, over-the-top acting turns, a TV-esque “Nicolaaaaa!”. It took me quite a while to decide whether I liked this. But I do: the slapstick serves the play nicely and in the hands of the as-always first rate Guthrie cast, it works – with lesser performers it would grate.

The design is marvelous. Walt Spangler’s set bursts with color, fractured walls, enormous paper flowers, angry bulls heads. The floor and the false proscenium are treated with a peeling unfinished whitewash. Odd though this seems, it works perfectly. In particular I adored the second act garden, with the precarious wall, and the mountain goat perched on the snowy (despite the summery season) hillside. Even more color is provided by Murell Horton’s excellent costumes, Robert Wierzel’s lighting and Richard Woodbury’s sound. As is so often the case at the G, the designers provide a feast for the eyes.

Have you seen “Arms and the Man?” If so, what did you think? Was it enough for the play to be “merely entertaining” or did you crave something more? Let us know in the comments section.

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