May 20 2015 12:55 PM

George Bernard Shaw's comedy delights at Old Globe

Arms9_print
Enver Gjokaj and Wrenn Schmidt in “Arms and the Man.”
Photo by Jim Cox

With its sumptuous 19th-century costumes (designed by David Israel Reynoso) and applause-eliciting sets (scenic design by Ralph Funicello), the Old Globe's production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man has pizzazz to spare. More important, it is true to Shaw's intended de-glamorization of both war and swooning love. Neither the "glory" of battle nor the rapture of romance emerges unscathed at the end of three swiftly moving acts of dramatic satire couched as broad comedy.

Shaw subtitled his play first produced in 1894 An Anti-Romantic Comedy in Three Acts, and the tale of a beautiful aristocrat, Raina Petkoff, engaged to a fop of a war hero, Sergius, who finds true love with the arrival of an enemy soldier, is more romp than romance. Its physicality is not spent on embraces so much as on posing, posturing and gestures both noble and ignoble. As for the nobility of battle, if there is such a thing, Shaw's narrative wrapped around the four-month-long Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885 is unromantic as can be about all things military. The preposterous Sergius and Raina's blustering father, Major Petkoff, are played purely for laughs. Capt. Bluntschli, Raina's "chocolate-cream soldier," has a head on his shoulders but is not in love with military bearing or valor.

All this clear and deliberate commentary aside, this staging of Arms and the Man, directed by Jessica Stone, is sheer entertainment. Besides the lush set and costumes, the production enjoys light-comedy turns by Wrenn Schmidt and Zach Appelman as Raina and Bluntschli, respectively, and by fa miliar pros Marsha Mason and Conrad John Schuck as Raina's parents. Enver Gjokaj is given license to go all out as the vainglorious Sergius, and does so.

The Monty Pythons would be proud. There's even a likable fiddler (Ernest Sauceda) who engages theatergoers in crowd participation.

At times the silliness smothers the play's underlying discourses—apparently Shaw himself was surprised audiences laughed so much. But there are illuminations in Bluntschli's hapless swordplay and Sergius' cluelessness, and in fanciful Raina's superficiality, illuminations that are not confined to the 19th century.

Arms and the Man runs through June 14 at the Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up. oldglobe.org


Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com.


OPENING

A New Brain: A musical about a young composer rushing to create his masterpiece after learning he has a fatal brain disease. It opens in previews May 21 at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org

Singin' in the Rain: The musical production of the beloved movie about the early days of sound film. Yes, it will rain onstage. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens on May 22 at Spreckels Theatre in Downtown. sdmt.org

Everybody's Talkin': The Music of Harry Nilsson: A world premiere musical about the highly influential, but still relatively obscure singersongwriter. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it opens May 23 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org


NOW PLAYING

Rent: Based on Puccini's famous opera, La Bohème, this highly successful musical is about young folks struggling to get by in New York City. Through May 30 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through May 31 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org

Bingo: Hijinks ensue in this musical about three friends trying to make it to an annual celebration honoring the creator of the card-and-numbers game. Presented by PowPAC Community Theatre, it runs through June 7 at the PowPAC Theatre in Poway. powpac.org

Last Chance Romance: Sam Bobrick's comical romp about a thirty-something woman desperate to get married at any cost. Through June 7 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa.

Arms and the Man: Often considered George Bernard Shaw's most romantic comedy, this play centers on a young Bulgarian woman who gets caught up in a love triangle during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. Through June 14 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

The Whale: The San Diego premiere of the Off-Broadway hit about a 600-pound recluse desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter before he eats himself to death. Through June 14 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com

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