Split personalities

Arms and the Man

By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Anthony Patton
Pulse Ensemble Theatre (www.pulseensembletheatre.org)
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Frank Episale

Artistic Director Alexa Kelly likes to refer to Pulse Ensemble Theatre’s summer productions as "the world’s most intimate outdoor theatre." Set on a temporary stage in the courtyard shared by the Pulse and the Douglas Fairbanks, these productions seek to benefit from the advantages of breezy outdoor shows while maintaining the higher production values of indoor performances.

While not perfect, this good-natured production mostly succeeded in its goals. The great strength of the play is that it feels light-hearted and moves along quickly, but contains some serious indictments of war, class structure, and sexual politics. Anthony Patton’s direction didn’t do much to underscore these themes, but it did keep things moving along nicely with humor, grace, and efficiency. The production never rose to the frantic pace and volume suggested by Shaw’s outlandish plotting but was content to achieve a sort of relaxed loveliness appropriate for a summer evening out of doors.

The charming Jeremy Hall turned in the evening’s strongest performance as Bluntscli, a visiting Swiss soldier whose candor and competence disrupt the lives of the aristocratic Petkoff family. Shaw portrays most of the remaining characters as hypocrites with personalities clearly divided into public and private. Patton emphasized this structure by staging the "polite" scenes face-out to the audience, only allowing the actors to interact more directly when their characters’ public faces were dropped. As Sergius, Walter Brandes made full use of this dual nature, garnering laughs with absurdly exaggerated gallantry and quickly turning more naturalistic when the callousness and violence of his character was revealed. Francesca Marrone was convincing and often touching as Louka, the maidservant who despises these treacherous games, though the strength of her work was somewhat undermined by her tendency to keep her hands moving around and in front of her face during emotional moments. These gestures never allowed her the open vulnerability that might have won the audience over more completely. Nalina Mann was beautiful in Terry Leong’s typically gorgeous costumes, and sweetly played the ingénue surprised to be falling in love, but failed to convey the full haughtiness of the spoiled Raina Petkoff. Maria Dering and David Arthur Bachrach each gave disappointing single-note performances as the strident Maria Petkoff and her baffled husband. Steve Abruscato mined some chuckles with his deadpan portrayal of the steadfast Nicola, but seemed under-directed in a role that should have left more of an impression.

The set and lights by Alexa Kelly were simple and effective, making good use of the potentially problematic courtyard space. Brian Richardson’s sound design was functional but almost perfunctory, and the recordings of gunfire sounded strange and artificial when contrasted with the very real commotion of 42nd Street just a few feet away.

Also featured was Lee Wittenberg.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting: 1/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2002 Frank Episale