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.
The 1894 play is a study of class and morality in wartime. Raina (Mariko Nakasone) is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to an officer (Michael Schantz) off fighting the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. A Serbian artillery officer on the run (Jim Lichtscheidl) stumbles into Raina’s bedroom, and she becomes taken with him, ultimately helping him to escape capture. This becomes an issue in peacetime when the Serb returns to Raina’s home and implicitly threatens her engagement.
|arms and the man, presented at the guthrie theater through may 8. for tickets ($24-$60) and information, see guthrietheater.org.|
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.
One expects a plush set from the Guthrie, and Walt Spangler delivers, setting the family dwelling cozily amid snow-covered peaks and behind a row of toy cavalry trotting along the footlights. (The blooms that sprout in Act II almost recall the erotic blossoms seen in Spangler’s 2009 design for the Guthrie’s Importance of Being Earnest.) The opening of Act III gets a laugh when Goetz’s trophy-filled library is revealed. Indeed, this production provides plenty of comfortable laughs. If you’re looking to be challenged, though, look elsewhere.