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Critic: Simon Saltzman. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February

23, 2000. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Arms and the Man’

Written in 1894 and set in the late 19th century,

during

the time of the Serbo-Bulgarian war, "Arms and the Man," is

a double-edge sword. While cleverly penned to discredit the myths

of war and its warriors, George Bernard Shaw’s fourth play (and first

success), also rebukes social protocol and romantic insincerity. One

of the most astonishing elements of Roger Rees’s new staging for the

Roundabout Theater Company is the set designed by Neil Patel. Painted

onto the sepia-toned curved walls of the handsome revolving set is

a sprawling map of the besieged region — the same towns, rivers

and territories (boundaries change, of course, with every decade)

that we have been reading about in today’s news.

In Shaw’s lilting, lyrical, anti-militaristic farce, romance comes

first, closely pursued by comedy. But ironically, we also watch the

giddy old-fashioned action from the perspective of our knowledge of

current events. Tragic as these events may be, wouldn’t Shaw be

delighted?

The play’s formidable backdrop does not detract from the presence

of effervescent charm that resides in a maiden’s bedchamber, namely

Katie Finneran, who plays Raina, daughter of the richest and most

prominent family in Bulgaria. If Finneran’s is the performance that

tickles us the most in this sweet, but unsurprising, production, the

others, under Rees’s direction, deliver — with varying degrees

of success — the fresh and impudent behavior that suits the three

joyful acts (here combined into two acts) of this purposeful nonsense.

The cast is a rather fresh-faced lot, perhaps not as daringly engaging

as other casts I have seen in this popular play. (I’m still ready

to chuckle remembering Raul Julia, Kevin Kline, Glenne Headly, Louis

Zorich, and Kaitlin Clark in a riotous, 1985 Circle in the Square

production, directed by John Malkovich.)

With the exception of the first half of Act I, when everyone seemed

to be shouting at each other as if they were warming up for a

performance

of Oscar Straus’ operetta version "The Chocolate Soldier,"

and during which the actors appeared to be acting in as many styles

as there are varieties of chocolates in a five-pound box, the play

and its players ultimately provide the intended two hours of

amusement.

Only after you begin to question whether this is the way for an

ensemble

to act out Shaw’s comical inquiry into the various and variable ethics

that dictate man’s behavior, can you appreciate the joke of so many

individualized acting styles. Rees’s concept has a Shavian shiver

to it, and, as such, offers a treat to those too often lulled by mere

consistency of style.

Of course this freewheeling approach would never work without actors

able to sustain the grand illusion of their own half-mad delusions.

Henry Czerny has a very contemporary American deportment as the

sweet-toothed

Swiss mercenary Captain Bluntschli. It is for Bluntschli, who would

rather have chocolates than bullets in his pockets, to put to rest

the myth of war and its heroes. In Czerny, we have a rather unusual

and un-dashing, but delightful, Bluntschli whose bedside brand of

cynical insecurity puts to rest any number of cliches about heroic

behavior. When the hungry, tired, and frightened fugitive takes

temporary

refuge from pursuing soldiers among the ruffles in a maiden’s boudoir,

he uses the only ammunition he has left: "Would you like to see

me cry?"

If we missed the outrageous pomp, circumstance, and

heel-clicking that usually personifies Major Sergius Saranoff,

"the

hero of the hour, the idol of the regiment," and Raina’s fiancee,

Paul Michael Valley’s display of none-too-subtle stupidity and his

imposing countenance in braided uniform and polished boots are its

own rewards. That is, until he finally opens his mouth and declares,

"Everything I think is mocked by everything I do." Valley

falls short when it comes making Serguis’ airs of narcissism and phony

gallantries as funny as the playwright intended, but he makes Sergius’

cautious bravado an endearing trait.

For a short time, I was a little nonplused by Finneran’s flaky

reactions,

both in speech and behavior. But this irresistibly clever, lovely

actor soon had me laughing aloud at every delicious turn of phrase.

Tom Bloom was appropriately dense as the old Major. Robin Weigert

had some insinuating moments as the cunningly sensual maid. Michael

Potts, as Nicola, the manservant with a cockney accent and an

attitude,

and Sandra Shipley, as Raina’s mother Catherine, bent on modernizing

her home with an electric servant’s bell, were skillful in their more

detached ebullience.

Some historical trivia: Shaw took the title of the play from the first

line of Virgil’s "Aeneid," which reads in Latin, "Arma

virum que cano" — "Of arms and the man I sing." In

the "Aeneid," Virgil praises the glory of military work; thus

Shaw’s title is a tongue-in-cheek tribute in the form of a comedy

that debunks all notion of military glory. Two stars.

— Simon Saltzman

Arms and the Man, Roundabout Theater Company at Gramercy

Theater, 127 East 23 Street, New York, 212-777-4900. $55. Through

April 30.

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On Broadway

The key: Four stars. Don’t miss; Three stars, You won’t feel

cheated; Two stars, Maybe you should have stayed home; One star, Don’t

blame us.

Aida, Palace, Broadway & 47. Ticketmaster. Elton John

and Tim Rice.

Amadeus Two stars. Music Box, 239 West 45. By Peter

Schaffer.

Annie Get Your Gun One star. Marquis, Broadway & 46.

Ticketmaster.

Beauty and the Beast, Lunt-Fontanne, Broadway & 46.

Ticketmaster.

Cabaret Three stars. Studio 54, 254 West 54, 800-432-7250.

Cats Three stars. Winter Garden, 50 & Broadway.

Chicago Four stars. Shubert, 225 West 44.

Dame Edna Three stars. Booth, 222 West 45. "The Royal

Tour."

Footloose Two stars. Richard Rodgers, 226 West 46.

Ticketmaster.

Fosse Three stars. Broadhurst, 235 West 44.

Jackie Mason Two stars. Golden, 252 West 45. "Much Ado

About Everything."

James Joyce’s The Dead Two stars. Belasco, 111 West 44.

Jekyll & Hyde Two stars. Plymouth, 236 West 45.

Kiss Me, Kate Four stars. Martin Beck, 302 West 45. Cole

Porter revival with verve.

Les Miserables Three stars. Imperial, 249 West 45.

Miss Saigon Four stars. Broadway, 53 and Broadway.

Rent Four stars. Nederlander, 208 West 41.

Ticketmaster.

Saturday Night Fever Two stars. Minskoff, 45 Street west

of Broadway. Ticketmaster.

Squonk Two stars. Helen Hayes, 240 West 44.

Swing!, St. James, 246 West 44.

The Lion King Four stars. New Amsterdam, Broadway &

42, 212-307-4747.

The Phantom of the Opera Three stars. Majestic, 247 West

44.

The Price Three stars. Royale, 242 West 45. By Arthur

Miller. To March 5.

True West, Circle in the Square, West 50. By Sam Shepard.

Waiting in the Wings Two stars. Walter Kerr, 219 West

48. Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris.

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Off-Broadway

Ancestral Voices, Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center. By A.R.

Gurney. Sundays & Mondays.

An Empty Plate, Primary Stages, 354 West 45, 212-333-4052.

Previews.

Blue Man Group Four stars. Astor Place, 434 Lafayette,

212-254-4370.

Bomb-itty of Errors Two stars. 45 Bleecker. Shakespeare

updated. Ticketmaster.

Camelot’s Ruby, Bank Street, 155 Bank, 215-592-3312.

De La Guarda One star. Daryl Roth, 20 Union Square East.

Defending the Light, Tribeca Center, 199 Chambers Square.

Dinner With Friends Three stars. Variety Arts, 110 Third

Avenue.

Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act! Stardust, Broadway

& 51.

Fuddy Meers Three stars. Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta

off Sixth. Ticketmaster.

Fully Committed Two stars. Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Jane Street Theater, 113 Jane.

Newly-infused glam by Matt McGrath.

Hundreds of Sisters & One Big Brother, Harold Clurman,

412 West 42.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Two stars.,

Westside,

407 West 43.

Inappropriate, Theater Row, 424 West 42. To February 27.

Joyful Noise, Lamb’s, 130 West 44.

Late Nite Catechism, St. Luke’s Church, 308 West 46,

800-432-7250.

Monster, Kaufman, 534 West 42, 212-244-7529.

Naked Boys Singing, Actors’ Playhouse, 100 Seventh Avenue.

Our Sinatra, Blue Angel, 323 West 44.

Over the River & Through the Woods Two stars. John

Houseman,

450 West 42.

Panache, Players, 115 Macdougal.

Perfect Crime, Duffy, 1553 Broadway.

Saturday Night, Second Stage, 307 West 43, 212-246-4422.

Sondheim.

Sophie, Totie, & Bell, Theater Four, 424 West 55.

Previews.

Stomp Four stars. Orpheum, Second Avenue at 8.

Ticketmaster.

The Alchemist, Classic Stage, 136 East 13.

The Altruists, Vineyard, 108 East 15, 212-353-0303.

The Big Bang, Fairbanks, 432 West 42. Previews.

The Countess, Samuel Beckett, 410 West 42.

Ticketmaster.

The Country Boy, Irish Repertory, 132 West 22,

212-727-2737.

Previews.

The Donkey Show, Club El Flamingo, 547 West 21. Disco

show. Ticketmaster.

The Fantasticks, 181 Sullivan Street Playhouse.

Ticketmaster.

40th year.

The Moment When, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42.

The Time of the Cuckoo, Mizi Newhouse, Lincoln Center.

By Arthur Laurents. Preview.

The Vagina Monologues, Westside, 407 West 43.

The Wild Party, City Center Stage, 131 West 55,

212-581-1212.

Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding Three stars. St. Luke’s Church, 308

West 46.

Two Sisters and a Piano, Public, 425 Lafayette. The Nilo

Cruz drama premiered at McCarter.

Wit Four stars. Union Square, 100 East 17.

Ticketmaster.

1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

— Simon Saltzman

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

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