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ARMS AND THE MAN

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It would be interesting to know what playwright George Bernard Shaw preferred to write about more: the folly of warfare, or the never-ending battle of the sexes. Both themes reoccur in his works, from Heartbreak House to Saint Joan. He mixed them together splendidly in this play. The Bulgarians and Russians may be fighting the Serbs and Austrians outside a lady's bedchamber in a small Bulgarian town in 1885, but the battle of the sexes rages full steam ahead inside the house.

The young Raina (Melanie Lora) is engaged to the dashing and pompous Sergius (Randall Dodge), the newly minted hero of the Bulgars, who very madly led a cavalry charge against Serbian machine guns. Fortunately for him, the Serbs had the wrong ammunition. Instead of cutting the Bulgars to shreds, the Serbs fled, including the atypical Swiss mercenary Bluntschli (Mario Schugel), who climbs up a drainpipe to hide in Raina's bedchamber. She agrees to hide him from the pursuing army and feeds him the last of her chocolates, dubbing him her "chocolate cream soldier." Infatuated with him, she enlists her flirtatious mother (Rosina Reynolds) to help him escape. Little do they know he would eventually meet and befriend Raina's fiancé, Sergius, and husband, Major Petkoff (Tim West). The confused complications get more muddled by an envious and social-climbing maid (Jennifer Austin).

Director Brendon Fox and his talented cast have created a delicious and laugh-filled entertainment, expertly delivering Shaw's witty dialogue. There is chemistry between Lora and Schugel, as their instant attraction overcomes their wartime opposition. Reynolds makes a marvelous sort of Billy Burke grande dame as she flutters about the stage. Dodge preens more than any peacock would, and Austin's sexy bravado gets her everything she desires. West perfectly plays the patriarch who has no idea what is going on in his household. Mike Buckley designed the easily adaptable scenic design that transforms from bedchamber to garden to library. Jeanne Reith's period costumes are lovely and detailed. Arms and the Man is a comedic confection to be sweetly enjoyed by all.

"Arms and the Man," presented by Moonlight Stage Productions at the Avo Playhouse, 303 Main St., Vista. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Mar. 3-20. $20-22. (760) 724-2110.

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