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LA Theater Review

Arms And The Man

G.B. Shaw's romantic comedy is not without its social agenda, but director Michael Murray's handling of the production is so subtle and adept that it plays like clockwork farce. There's a wonderful ebb and flow to the energy of the piece, and Murray's handling of the script's turning points is done with a casual grace. As the construction of lies collapses at the end, the payoff is perfection. The characters are, for the most part, deplorable--"These monstrous men and the women who condone and support them," as Jessica Lange referred to their modern-day ilk in her protest speech last fall--but here they are rendered so winningly, victims of their own myths and ignorance rather than willfully wicked, that one can't help but almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

The Petkoffs are an early 20th century family in Bulgaria and are people of such refinement they wash their hands "practically every day." While the men are away, waging war against the Serbs, the women are home, romanticizing the enterprise with perverse glee. The arrival of Swiss mercenary Bluntschli (Mikael Salazar), slipping through the bedroom window of Raina (Dorothea Harahan) as a means of escaping Bulgarian bullets, sets the main story in motion. His experience as a soldier for hire meshes not at all with the family dogma, thus driving the characters to realize all manner of unpleasantries. Salazar underplays the character more as a muddied philosopher than a pedantic opportunist, and it's a winning portrayal. Raina, a spoiled little minx, is painted with a full but never excessive palette by Harahan.

Mark Bramhall and Mark Deakins play the household warriors, and each succeeds handsomely in punching holes in the romance of warfare--Bramhall as the family patriarch, and Deakins as Raina's dashingly handsome but not overly cerebral betrothed. Karen Tarleton, as Raina's mother, is a wonderful study in bourgeois aspiration.

The darkly beautiful Abby Craden is superb as the family maid, Louka, in whom most of the brains and household ambition reside. Her fellow servant, Nicola, is played with engaging duplicity by Paul Taviani. The many household locations are simply and effectively realized in Susan Gratch's set design.

Presented by and at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Repertory schedule. Mar. 17-May 20. (818) 240-0910, ext. 1.

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