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Reviewer has one word for ‘Arms & the Man’: LOVE

Thursday, April 23, 2009 — Advance Weekly Entertainment section
By LISA ANN WILLIAMSON, Advance Theater writer
Advance photo by JAN SOMMA-HAMMEL
    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — George Bernard Shaw has the ability to provoke deep thought and even profound laughter from audiences who venture to see his plays. Leaving Wagner College’s Stage One after having seen “Arms and the Man,” a much more basic feeling washed over me: Love.
    Turns out, I love Shaw — especially when done as well as this production, which continues through April 25.
    Director John Jamiel’s hand-picked cast executes Shaw flirtations, absurd grand-stands and debates on bathing with polished ease. Most of his players have had a busy year on both Main and One stages and bring their best to the stage in the story set in 1885 during the Serbo-Bulgarian war.
    When a victory is announced by the Bulgarians, the women are left home to conjure romantic visions of the battles of war. Raina Petkoff (Victoria Gillette) is betrothed to Major Sergius Saranoff (Matt Ban), whom she hopes can live up to the valor she envisions for him. Both exhibit childish behavior, are given to tantrums and concern themselves with appearances.
    When an enemy soldier, Captain Bluntschli (Michael Pesoli), breaks into Raina’s bedchambers, she discovers new energy and dubs him her chocolate cream soldier. Pesoli, once cleaned, rested and fed after the wages of war, was delightfully charming in his assured swagger, calling Raina and those around him on their shallowness.
    All the action takes place in various rooms of the Petkoff mansion (designed by Gil Hebert), run ably by Catherine Petkoff and equipped with a library, which Major Petkoff (Donny Londono) takes great joy in pronouncing with pride on several occasions, evoking roaring laughter.
    Housekeeper Louka (Danielle Roth) is bold and brassy, lacking the soul of a servant. And Catherine (Laraine Watson), wife of Bulgarian Major Petkoff, has mastered comedic nuances and impeccable timing to mask her deeds in hiding a fugitive while maintaining a presence, which sends most men cowering. Watson is a pleasure to watch.
    As the dialogue banters about and the characters complete their tasks, the time speeds joyously by (even with the three acts and two scene changes, Jamiel’s production clocks in just under two hours). Truly, you leave the theater with the glow of new love.
    AT TOP: Victoria Gillette (as Raina Petkoff) and Michael Pesoli (as Captain Bluntschli) in Wagner College's "Arms and the Man."
    George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” plays through Saturday, April 25 at Wagner College’s Stage One studio theater, next to the football stadium. Curtain time each night is 8 p.m. General admission $5; Wagner College students get in free with ID. To reserve seats, call the Box Office Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 718-390-3259.

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