Joyner and Sloniker undergo disillusionment. Photo by John Ulman

Joyner and Sloniker undergo disillusionment. Photo by John Ulman

Martial Arts at the Armory

Seattle Shakespeare’s affectionately traditionalist staging of Shaw’s unsentimental wartime satire, ‘Arms and the Man.’

It’s easy to understand why George Bernard Shaw was unenthusiastic at the prospect of having his 1894 play Arms and the Man transformed into Oscar Straus’ 1908 operetta The Chocolate Soldier: His play is a satire of exactly those saccharine clichés that are the stuff of operetta—stalwart heroes, swooning heroines, over-idealized romance—and especially of the glamorization of war that underlies them. Of course Seattle Shakespeare, in its current production, gets Shaw’s joke, and found a spiffing pair—Brenda Joyner and Richard Nguyen Sloniker—to play its targets, the self-deluding young lovers Raina and Sergius. She swans about, embodying a young woman’s provincial notions about what being an upper-class matron requires of her; he’s constantly striking poses, as if modeling for a statue; both are adorable in their pretentions. Though those hot-air balloons by and by get popped, Joyner and Sloniker never fail to buoy up director David Armstrong’s affectionately traditionalist, stylishly witty staging.

The instrument of their disillusionment is the mercenary Swiss soldier Bluntschli: pragmatic, as plainspoken as his name suggests, and far more competent, it turns out, than the gung-ho Sergius. A fugitive from the Bulgarian/Serbian war, he sneaks into Raina’s bedroom to launch the plot, but shocks her less by his incursion than by his refusal to see the war as her beloved Sergius does: as a mere backdrop for his own storybook magnificence. As Shaw’s truth-teller and mouthpiece, it strikes me as a hard role to get a handle on; everyone else gets overtly comic traits an actor can play with relish, and, rereading the play before Saturday night’s performance, I still had trouble imagining Bluntschli off the page. S.F. Kamara didn’t; he brings the role warmth and charm, making him much more than simply the foil to Sergius’ conceit.

Raina’s bumptious parents are delectably imagined and detailed in the hands of Allen Fitzpatrick and Suzy Hunt; George Mount and Jonelle Jordan are animated as the unsentimental butler and maid Nicola and Louka. (Servants smarter than their employers is its own stage cliché, going back millennia; Shaw wasn’t guiltless on that count.) The pacing is up-tempo and surefooted, the whole airy and fizzy without undercutting or overplaying Shaw’s cynicism: a very dry champagne.

Arms and the Man

Thru November 18 | Center Theatre at the Armory, Seattle Center | $30–$55 | seattleshakespeare.org

More in Arts & Culture

Cast trailers for “Three Busy Debras” filming at the Snoqualmie YMCA parking lot on Sept. 4. Madison Miller / staff photo
New TV show filming in Snoqualmie

“Three Busy Debras” is being filmed in cities in the Seattle area, including Snoqualmie.

Tyler, The Creator performs during Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in Seattle, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Gallery: Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival 2019

Scenes from Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival at the Seattle Center.

Acquisition gift chosen from 2018 Seattle Art Fair. Installation view of Recent Acquisitions: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Frye Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jueqian Fang.
Seattle Art Fair renews partnership with Frye Art Museum

The Seattle Art Fair, presented by AIG, is pleased to announce the… Continue reading

Bread Face. Courtesy of the artist @breadfaceblog.
Seattle Art Fair returns Aug. 1

The Seattle Art Fair, presented by AIG, is proud to announce the… Continue reading

Linda Hodges Gallery in Pioneer Square. Photo courtesy Linda Hodges Gallery
Despite Construction, Pioneer Square’s Art Galleries Remain Strong

Long a hub for Seattle’s visual arts scene, the neighborhood gets an new space this spring with the opening of ARTS at King Street Station.

Patty Gone offers an artistic toast to Danielle Steel. Photo courtesy Mount Analogue
Patty Gone’s Queer Romance Novel Reflections

The artist’s upcoming residency at Mount Analogue explores the cultural impact of pulpy romantic fantasy.

Photo by Spencer Baker 
                                Mark Haim’s torso will be guided by his friends’ movements in Parts to a Sum.
Crowdsourced Choreography

Mark Haim’s ‘Parts to a Sum’ exemplifies how choreographers are relinquishing control in the name of collaboration.

Seeing the Seattle Opera’s <em>The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs</em> counts as screen time. Photo by Philip Newton
The Innovative Tech Disconnect of ‘The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs’

Like the technology Jobs pioneered, the Seattle Opera production is flashy but lacking in soul.

Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2019 Picks

Make the most of the cultural cinematic event with these four selections.

‘Roma’ projects to be the big winner at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday. Photo by Carlos Somonte
And The Winner Is: 2019 Oscars Preditions

Who will take home the awards on cinema’s biggest night?

Britney Barber (center) and Samantha Demboski (left) perform in ‘Empty Orchestra.’ Photo courtesy Jet City Improv
Making It Up As They Go Along

Jet City Improv’s retributive actions towards a former player raise issues of the comedy institution’s staff culture.