Shaw Delivers, but Lyric's "Arms" Doesn't Satisfy

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Arms and the Man
Written by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Spiro Veloudos, Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco, Costume Design by Molly Trainer, Lighting Design by John Cuff, Music Arrangement by Jonathan Goldberg

Cast, in order of appearance
Catherine, Bobbie Steinbach
Raina, Ellen Adair
Louka, Sarah Abrams
Nicola, Peter A. Carey
Petkoff, Ken Baltin
Sergius, James Ryen
Bluntschli, Barlow Adamson
Russian Soldier/Servant, Allan Mayo
Servant, Emma Putnam

Performances: Now until June 2
Box Office: 617-585-5678, online at, or in person at 140 Clarendon Street

George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man is a witty satire—disguised as a romantic comedy—that takes aim at society by poking fun at its various institutions, from the rigid class structure to the strict gender roles to the foolishness of blind patriotism and, well, blind faith in just about anything. Though the relevance of the play in the present day serves as a testament to how little we have changed as a society over the last century—a frightening prospect, when you think about it—Arms and the Man is a play that everyone should experience, especially in this day and age. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, however, may not be the best place to do it; while their interpretation of the play sometimes hits the mark, Shaw's message is overpowered by a somewhat muddled and over-the-top staging.

 Arms and the Man opens in the bed chamber of Raina Petkoff, an idealistic young woman devoted to her war hero fiancé, Sergius. In the course of the night, Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary fighting for the enemy troops, seeks refuge from the battle in her room. Against all reason—her father is a commander in the Bulgarian army—Raina protects him, and her "chocolate crème soldier," as she refers to Bluntschli, leaves her with questions whose answers she was once certain of. Three months later, the soldiers return—Bluntschli included—and as Raina and her mother try to hide their previous encounter with Bluntschli, the servant Louka, unhappy with her marriage prospects and in love with Sergius, manipulates however she can to turn the situation to her favor. Hilarity and romance ensue, and in the end, everyone ends up where they should be.

This is a well-written and multi-faceted play, which makes the Lyric's interpretation all the more upsetting. While this production is enjoyable, it lacks both the edge and the clear artistic vision needed to stand out and effectively portray Shaw's original work. The elements of a great production are there—a unique and engaging set by Cristina Todesco, utterly beautiful costumes by Molly Trainer, and stand out performances by Barlow Adamson and Sarah Abrams, as Bluntschli and Louka, respectively—they just don't mix and form a cohesive vision of the show. The staging isn't Spiro Veloudos's best, and this satire becomes—dare I say it?—farce-like at times, distracting from the play and fully exemplifying just how fine a line there is between the two genres. Most of the play's characters—save for Adamson, Abrams, and a thoroughly convincing Peter Carey as Louka's betrothed Nicola—are played as caricatures of themselves, which both annoys and overpowers everything else about this production. It's a shame to see perfectly good talent misdirected for such use, and even more of a shame to see such a brilliant work of theatre staged in such a manner.

To be fair, I've suffered through much worse, and the Lyric's production of Arms and the Man is far from a theatrical failure. It's one of those middle-of-the-road, safe, and all too easily forgettable shows. Speaking as a lover of almost all writings Shaw, however, I have to admit this production was a disappointment. Yes, it will suffice for the average theatre-goer, but for the Shaw aficionados, this chocolate-crème production simply doesn't satisfy.

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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)