Last weekend, the Wittenberg Theater and Dance Department put on its first main stage production of the year, a wonderful rendition of “Arms and the Man,” a three-act play written by George Bernard Shaw.
Set in Bulgaria in 1885, the story follows the Petkoff family – one of the wealthiest families in the country – at the end of the war between Serbia and Bulgaria. One night while Raina Petkoff was in her bedroom, a Swiss soldier fighting on the Serbian side barges in through her balcony, seeking shelter from an attack. She hides the soldier when Russian troops come searching for him, offers the starving man some chocolate cream candies and she and her mother Catherine sneak him out of the house later using Raina’s father’s coat as a cover.
Not much later, the war ends, and Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff, returns home with Raina’s fiancé Sergius Saranoff. Despite his engagement to Raina, Sergius secretly steals the affections of Louka, a housemaid who resents servitude.
The Swiss soldier Raina sheltered, Captain Bluntschli, comes to the Petkoff household to return the coat he had borrowed, and chaos ensues, as Catherine and Raina have to pretend they’d never met the soldier (who had been their former enemy) to protect Raina’s image and integrity, as well as their secret of having hidden the soldier.
To make matters even more complicated, Raina realizes she has romantic feelings for the captain. She had left him a photograph of herself in the coat pocket. He had not realized this prior to his returning it, having left the photograph in the coat, which meant Raina’s father had only to stick his hand in his pocket to find it.
In the end, all secrets become revealed, and the characters end up with who they were meant to.
Seniors Sarah Van Deusen (Catherine Petkoff) and Carl Burgason (Captain Bluntschli), and senior Annie Page (Louka) were phenomenal in their respective roles. Van Deusen’s maternal aspects were spot on, and her acting, alongside Burgason’s, were some of the best performances I’ve seen on the Wittenberg stage.
Page brought the sass in her character, providing much of the play’s comic relief, and executed Louka stunningly.
However, I wasn’t completely sold on freshman Kim Estenson’s take on the character Raina Petkoff. Though Estenson’s physicality and facial expressions were beautifully perfect, at times I wished her verbal performance had been a little stronger. The actress shone in emotional moments, but during ordinary speech, it was hard to believe her character all the time.
Sophomore Alec Steele (Major Paul Petkoff) was utterly brilliant, playing off the major’s strong points. Other than Burgason’s incredible portrayal of the captain, Steele’s was the most believable character of the show, and he pulled it off nearly flawlessly. The only qualm was that it was hard to hear him deliver his lines every once in a while.
A clever addition to the show was the director’s idea to have some of the actors stay in character during the scene changes, which occurred during the show’s two intermissions (between each act). Sophomore Joey Prines (as the head house servant Nicola), freshman Jacob Davis (who played a Russian soldier) and Page (Louka) were impeccable, and it gave the show a comical and creative touch.
The costumes, makeup and hair were spot on for the time period and location, and the lighting gave the show a nice touch to heighten elements of each scene. The set and props were charmingly made, simplistic though elegant, definitely highlighting the characters’ lifestyles.
Overall, for the first main stage production of the year, it was an incredible show that was worth attending, and showed that the theater department has some great directors, actors and technicians.