'Arms and the Man' misses mark
Sometimes the order in which you see shows makes all the difference. Had I taken in Arms and the Man at Friday evening's opener at the Guthrie Theater, I might have thought it a solid piece of theater about war, soldiers, and honor.
Instead, I took it in after seeing Heaven upstairs at the Dowling Studio, and Arms and the Man just pales in comparison. It's not just that George Bernard Shaw's play has lost some of its bite in the century since it was first performed. The searing nature of Flying Foot Forum's show, coupled with both taking place in the same general Eastern European locale, brought the issues to life in a way that Shaw's play just couldn't manage.
It doesn't help that the Guthrie production is largely inert, with most of the humor coming from the hard work of the actors rather than the script or staging.
The play looks at military manners from two distinct sides. On one is Captain Bluntschli, a professional soldier on the run who ends up in the bedroom of young Raina, the daughter of a wealthy Bulgarian family who is betrothed to Sergius, a young, heroic, and rather dim officer. Despite her better senses, Raina gives the enemy soldier temporary sanctuary, which proves to be a problem once the war is over and both her fiancé, the Swiss soldier, and her military father all converge on their home on the same day.
As often happens in works by Shaw it can be hard to find truly likeable characters, and this anti-romance doesn't help matters. In place of that, the actors play it for farce, with Peter Michael Goetz and Kate Eifrig as patriarch and matriarch getting the best moments.
The show as a whole, with workmanlike direction from Ethan McSweeny, doesn't have the energy to carry this very far, leaving long stretches where you wonder if this is supposed to be a comedy or not.
Some clever staging (toy soldiers line the lip of the stage and symbolize the battle that takes place pre show) and excellent design from Walt Spangler doesn't hide the production's lack of bite or heart.
Arms and the Man runs through May 8 at the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie.
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