Arms and the Man

Shana Bestock directs this crisp rendering of George Bernard Shaw’s classic 1894 parlor comedy, set in provincial Bulgaria in the 1880s. Upper-class young Raina Petkoff (Anne Kennedy) has finally agreed to marry dashingly dim-witted Major Sergius Saranoff (Ryan Childers), and must convince herself of his valor in order to stomach the union. Her mother adores Sergius, while her father, who fought alongside him against the Serbs, merely supports the bond because it makes sense. Enter a fugitive Swiss mercenary for the Serbs, Captain Bluntschli (irresistible Frank Lawler), who hates the war and loves chocolate. Why should Raina shelter this enemy combatant? Hey, it’s a comedy, so she lectures him about good breeding and calls him her “Chocolate Cream Soldier” as their chemistry first smolders, then sparks. Meanwhile, the class system is crumbling and servants ponder their low station. Today, the upstairs-downstairs divide is something we savor nostalgically, as in Downton Abbey on PBS. The pleasure in this revival is to observe its characters’ precise motivations and nuances. Everyone gets their chops around Shaw’s witty verbal shrapnel, and two hours go by in a wink. MARGARET FRIEDMAN

Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: May 20. Continues through June 12, 2011

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