Review: Arms and the Man – a proper chocolate crème

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Much like a proper chocolate crème, the Theatre UBC production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, currently playing at the Frederic Wood Theatre, has that perfect balance of a solid exterior shell and the gooiness at its center.

Arms and the ManSet in 1885 during the end of the Serbo-Bulgarian war, Raina (Kim Bennett) waits for the return of her betrothed Major Sergius Saranoff (Ryan Warden).  As she waits, she finds herself face-to-face with the enemy as Captain Bluntschli (Jameson Parker) crawls onto her balcony and into both her bedroom and her heart.

Equally smitten by Raina’s newly dubbed “Chocolate Crème Soldier” is her mother Catherine (Barbara Kozicki) who assists her daughter in helping him escape, complete with one of her husband Paul’s favourite coats.  Several weeks later, with the war finally over, Bluntschli returns with the coat.  Of course, by this time Sergius and Paul have also returned from the war.  Suffice to say there is much chaos when the entire cast of characters is thrown together with their various secrets.

What I really liked here, besides the terrific performances from Bennett and Parker, was Director Mindy Parfitt’s decision to ground the relationship between Raina and Bluntschli in reality and contrast it with the heightened absurdities of war through the pomposity and ridiculousness of Sergius and Paul.  That perfect chocolate crème.

Besides Bennett and Parker, Fiona Mongillo does a great job as the servant Louka who dreams (and ultimately succeeds) in breaking through class to get what, and who, she really wants.

Ana Cappelluto’s set design works well to help highlight Director Parfitt’s vision by highlighting the reality of the love with an authentic bedroom scene and in the absurdity of the rest with some not so perfect trompe l’oeil in the courtyard and library.  Saghar Bazargan’s costumes also help, especially in the reality of Bluntschli’s uniform in the first scene compared to the perfect soldier costumes worn by Sergius and Paul in subsequent scenes.

My one minor complaint here is in the scene transition in act one.  While I appreciate the desire to create something a little different than a bunch of black suited stagehands scurrying about in semi-darkness, I found it a bit long and somewhat funereal.  While perhaps that funereal feel is what Director Parfitt was looking for, it was such a downer from the bedroom scene that preceded it that it took me some time to recover enough to enjoy antics in the next scene.

It is perhaps hard to believe that in 2010 a satire written in 1894 might still have some relevance for audiences today.  But under Parfitt’s direction, even if its themes are not able to resonate with everyone, it is still quite “pleasant” just like a chocolate crème should be.

3 1/2 of 5 StarsArms and the Man
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
17 – 27 March 2010

Notions of love and warfare are turned upside down in this witty anti-romantic comedy of ideas, which takes the stage of the Frederic Wood Theatre by storm with a LIVE band playing all your favorite Bulgarian Folk Music hits! Tickets $15-$25 available by calling the theatre box office at 604.822.2678.  Visit for more information.

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