Love and war might be an unusual pairing for a comedy, but anyone who sees George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” at The Old Globe Theatre will leave thinking the opposite.
The story takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Catherine Petkoff (Marsha Mason) and her daughter Raina (Wrenn Schmidt) are holding down the homefront while Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff (John Conrad Schuck), and her fiancé, Major Sergius Saranoff (Enver Gjokaj), are in the midst of battle.
As Raina prepares for bed one evening, loud gunfire is heard outside her room, as the troops are close by. Suddenly her terrace doors explode open and Swiss Captain Bluntschli barges in seeking refuge. Raina, only somewhat surprised, converses with Bluntschli while wearing a large fur robe — only one of David Israel Reynoso’s amazing costumes for this play.
After a few short conversations between Raina and the enemy soldier, she’s willing to hide him when rivals come looking for him. What really wins her heart is that Bluntschli prefers to carry chocolates, rather than ammo, in his side pouch. She begins to call him her “Chocolate-cream soldier.”
When mother Catherine discovers Raina is hiding the Captain, she too, bonds with him — especially since she is not fond of her daughter’s pompous fiancé Sergius.
As the war ends, a different battleground begins at the Petkoff’s beautiful home. Sergius returns and professes his love for Raina, but pays more attention to her attendant Louka (Sofiya Akilova). This becomes evident to Louka’s fiancé, Nicola (Greg Hildreth), who landmines the calm. When Bluntschli shows up to sign war documents, emotions swirl on a merry-go-round of distrust, panic and bedlam.
Shaw’s romantic comedy — his first commercial success — has been expertly rendered by the Globe’s production. Casting is superb. Mason excels in expressing every one of Catherine’s motives — whether making sure Raina finds the right partner or keeping her husband in control. Schmidt is a standout as Raina from scene one. She’s sweet, pretty, has the voice of an angel and knows which man really respects women. Gjokaj as the footstomping, jumping, proposing-on-his knee Sergius, impeccably delivers many laughs. Although Akilova and Hildreth’s time onstage is short, they fit solidly into the plot.
A large part of the enjoyment is due to Reynoso’s costumes, the stunning scenic design by Ralph Funicello and lighting by Austin R. Smith. The show has two short intermissions for the set changes. Raina’s bedroom is beautiful down to the smallest detail. The audience expressed delight when the curtain opened on the second set of the Petkoff home courtyard, which included the village musician (Ernest Sauceda), who not only played there but strolled the aisles of the theater as well. Playgoers were surprised again when the third set appeared with Raina perched on a gorgeous round settee. The entire room was lovely, from the tall walls to the marble fireplace.
Thanks to superb direction by Jessica Stone, “Arms and the Man” should be at the top of your “don’t miss” list.