Even after a century, Arms and the Man can still bring the laughs | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Even after a century, Arms and the Man can still bring the laughs

City Lit Theater's production highlights the genius of George Bernard Shaw.


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Even the name George Bernard Shaw sounds ho-hum to most people. It's got the intrinsic fustiness of barrel staves and buggy whips behind it in a way that that of his fellow Dubliner, Oscar Wilde, born two years earlier than Shaw, does not. Still, it's always been my experience that the indefatigable genius behind Heartbreak House and Saint Joan holds up remarkably well. He does better than hold up in this production. Director Brian Pastor and his extraordinary cast have a genuine comedy on their hands. Raucous, abrupt, and tightly wound, it deserves as many pairs of eyes on it between now and late October as City Lit can squeeze into its Bryn Mawr black box.

Set during an obscure war in the Balkans, the action centers on Captain Bluntschli (Adam Benjamin), a deserter from Switzerland who'd previously been fighting on the Serbian side against a poorly armed but headstrong Bulgarian regiment. Clambering through the bedroom window of a hilltop manse with his pistol drawn, he begs the stunned girl there for shelter. A berserk Bulgarian major, he says, charged at the Serbian front line that day "like an operatic tenor," causing Bluntschli—the famous "Chocolate Soldier" who looks good in uniform but is essentially useless—to do the sensible thing and bolt. The wit and wisdom of the play unspool from there, as the girl, Raina Petkoff (Scottie Caldwell), turns out to be engaged to that same nincompoop major, Sergius Saranoff (Martin Diaz-Valdes), but falls head over heels in love with Bluntschli. Caldwell gives a beautifully modulated performance, as does the uproariously funny Benjamin.   v

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