Shaw's Anti-Heroic, Anti-War Relic Is Anti-Climactic Today

THEATER: REVIEW

ARMS AND THE MAN ``A Pleasant Play'' by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Frank Hauser. THE Roundabout Theatre Company has seized upon the pleasantries of George Bernard Shaw's ``Arms and the Man'' for a spirited mingling of broad caricature and anti-romantic romance amid caustic Shavian reflections on the follies of militarism.

With that excellent actor Daniel Gerroll in the role of Captain Bluntschli, ``the chocolate cream soldier,'' the production staged by Frank Hauser exploits the extravagances of a comedy whose once controversial aspects have disappeared with the passage of time and history.

The Roundabout publicists remind us that the then Prince of Wales considered ``Arms and the Man'' ``disrespectful'' to the army at the time of its London premi'ere in 1894. When the play opened in Vienna in 1921, its Bulgarian jokes inspired a protest from the Bulgarian legation, and it closed after one performance. For his part, Shaw changed the play's subtitle from ``A Romantic Comedy'' to ``An Anti-Romantic Comedy'' in order to clarify its anti-heroic, anti-war message.

As he could when he wished, Shaw had it both ways. In the anti-climatic ending, love and practicality conquer all. Partners change. Ludicrous Major Serius Saranoff (Christopher Noth) loses his fianc'ee, Raina Petkoff (Roma Downey), and engages himself to Louka (Catherine Christianson), the Petkoff's saucy maid. Raina, her romantical posturing having already been exposed, accepts the proposal of Bluntschli, who discovers his own incorrigible romanticism.

THE performance staged by Mr. Hauser frequently takes on a comic-opera air that would be equally suitable to ``The Chocolate Soldier,'' the operetta version of Shaw's comedy. The extravagance is particularly apparent in Miss Downey's rapturous Raina - at least until Bluntschli finds her out - and in Barbara Andres as Raina's mother and fellow conspirator. (Both women are involved in the act of giving protection to Bluntschli, an enemy soldier, just as the war is winding down.)

Whether as surreptitious night intruder or welcome postwar guest, Mr. Gerroll plays Bluntschli with a combination of practical intelligence and diplomatic charm that mark the Swiss hotelier miscast as Serbian mercenary. The actor performs an admirable balancing act in the pivotal role. By contrast, if Mr. Noth's swaggering Sergius were any more Sergius-like, he would burst out of his uniform.

The Roundabout principals include MacIntyre Dixon as Raina's understandably baffled father and Yusef Bulos, who welcomes Louka as a future patron when he loses her as a future wife.

Franco Colavechia's scenery is solidly Bulgarian upper bourgeois. The production, scheduled to run through July 9, was costumed by Christina Giannini and lighted by F. Mitchell Dana.

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