Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Theater Review:ARMS AND THE MAN at Center Rep—uneven but enjoyable.

By John A. McMullen II
Monday February 06, 2012 - 10:05:00 AM
Maggie Mason and Gabriel Marin
Maggie Mason and Gabriel Marin

Nancy Carlin has directed an enjoyable but uneven ARMS AND THE MAN by G. B. Shaw at Center Rep in Walnut Creek. 

Her cast is excellent, even if the ages of the primaries are slippery. Craig Marker looks too young to play Bluntschli, and Maggie Mason can’t pass for the script-directed 17-23. 

It begins well, with the proper Shavian pace. You can’t take your time with Shaw; the plays are long and speaking quickly emulates the pace of Shaw’s mind and expression. 

But upon the “Chocolate Cream Soldier’s entrance over the balcony and through milady’s window, histrionics prevail for the remainder of the first act.  

There is a foray into mockery of the old “elocution” form of acting replete with “acting nobly and speaking in a thrilling voice.” At one point it devolved into slapstick and melodramatic comic posing illuminated by footlights.  

Perhaps it was a flight of fancy on the director’s part, too tempting to resist, perhaps it was not trusting GBS to carry the day; who knows. But it left this critic in a grump and a funk muttering invective in the interval as he queued up to buy the ice cream cups the pretty young lasses sell down at the foot of the stage in the yummy tradition of the London theatres. 

The second act was spot-on in pace and style, and the social equality and democracy points were allowed to be emphasized. When ARMS was written, much of Europe had monarchies. 

There is an honest attempt through song and costume to put it into Bulgaria 1885, but the uniforms and some of madam’s apparel by Victoria Livingston-Hall also are overblown comic renditions of a the puffed-up military of a proud country subservient to another Empire. 

The set by Kelly Tighe is lovely with Pointillist mountains that change color with the sun, and a starry sky full of Matisse patterns of hearts, arrows, and asterisk stars. 

All speak in the upper class accent except Mr. Marker as Bluntschi, the “Chocolate Cream Soldier” who is a Swiss professional mercenary, , as is proper. His accent is that flat American of our cinema heroes since Bluntschli is of the merchant class, multitalented in management and strategy, and a no-nonsense fellow in the midst of frippery-filled romantics.  

Lisa Anne Porter makes more of a part for herself than Mrs. Catherine Petkoff usually has by her pauses and polished comic delivery, but she betrays the format by employing that flat, pragmatic accent—it gets laughs, and she is very good, but she milks it for all its worth. 

We forgive Ms. Mason’s ingénue Raina if the age is disingenuous for her sweet looks and slight sibilance draw us to her and entrance all the vicarious Bluntschlis in the audience. She is sharp of wit, and can deliver lines at near to 200 wpm, with a comic energy that makes us want to woo her.  

Michael Rae Wisely, always one of my favorites, knows just how far to go with the befuddled general, and we grin at all the inventiveness of his stage business. 

Kendra Oeberhauser is the other female lead, the maid who lacks the soul of a servant and aspires to more. Her “Columbina” is by turns envious, jealous, steamy, pouting, and all those things that would make an officer and gentleman give in to her.  

The show is stolen by Gabriel Marin as Sergius, the romantic, self-obsessed, “Capitano” behind a mustachio of a mask, who convinces us by his investment that any “thrilling” overplaying is no act. 

He is a joy to watch. 

So if you go, stay for the second act. It trumps the first, and is a perfect example of how to do Shaw. 


ARMS AND THE MAN by George Bernard Shaw 

Center REPertory Company through February 25 

Lesher Center for the Arts 

Margaret Lesher Theatre 

1601 Civic Drive 

Walnut Creek 925-943-7469 

Directed by Nancy Carlin*+ / Scenic Design by Kelly Tighe / Lighting Design by Kurt Landisman^ 

Costume Design by Victoria Livingston-Hall / Sound Design by Lyle Barrere / Props by Christopher Kesel 

Stage Manager Gregg Rehrig* 

WITH: Lisa Anne Porter* as Catherine; Maggie Mason as Raina; Kendra Lee Oberhauser as Louka; Craig Marker*as Bluntschli; Andy Ryan Gardner as The Officer; Aaron Murphy as Nicola; Michael Ray Wisely* as Petkoff ; Gabriel Marin* as Sergius  


*Member, Actors Equity Association +Member, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society ^Member, United Scenic Artists 

John McMullen is a member of Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Assoc, and Stage Directors and CHoreogrpahers Society. EJ Dunne edits.