'Arms and the Man' a timid choice
By Peter Marks
Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011
For a young company, Constellation Theatre sure can feel old. Its current offering, a revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man," is the kind of unremarkable production you'd expect to encounter in the repertory of a fussy little troupe in some provincial outpost where the pastor's bored wife needs a pastime.
I say this not to give headaches to the company's plucky young artistic director, Allison Arkell Stockman, but to challenge her to take a step back and reflect on what more vibrant role her company might play in Washington's eclectic theater scene.
When you sit down to "Arms and the Man," the rather precious Shavian fable of a Swiss soldier who takes refuge from battle in the bedroom of a bourgeois young Bulgarian gentlewoman, the elaborate set invites you into a perfectly polished domain. And Stockman populates the play with appealing actors, in particular Brynn Tucker as a scheming maid who plots her ascendance to the upper classes.
But once the play's rather lackluster antics are fully engaged, the piece starts to sag, like soggy upholstery. The story's heroine, Amy Quiggins's Raina Petkoff, is betrothed to a blowhard of a Bulgarian officer (Mark Krawczyk), who by some unfortunate accident leads his troops to victory over the Serbs, in whose ranks the Swiss fighting man (Michael John Casey) is serving. Lots of jokes ensue about the boorish pretensions of the Bulgarian gentry - Shaw certainly looked down his nose at the Balkans - and about the blind spots of a pampered young woman who is learning a thing or two about real chivalry and valor.
It's difficult to see from Stockman's vaguely amusing treatment what it was about "Arms and the Man" that compelled her to stage it. In any event, it seems an odd fit for the creative vigor of its surroundings - both a neighborhood with an ever more vital beat and a performance space with a history of far more daring adventures in theater.