Arms And The Man

published: Fri, 15-Dec-2006   |   updated: Wed, 4-Jan-2017

Major Paul Petkoff in Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw for Theatreworks at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, UCCS. Directed by Murray Ross. November/December 2006. 16 performances.

This turned out to be the most satisfying and fun production I've been in for some time. Having got burned out (bored?) of musicals and wanting to get away from the FAC for a while, I auditioned for this, not expecting much. Amazingly, Murray, the director, wanted me for Petkoff, despite my English accent making the joke against washing Englishmen a little weird. But, hey, that's how Shaw wrote the joke anyway, so I went for it.

We had a very short rehearsal period indeed, just over three weeks, and it didn't help that I went away for a week to Tech·Ed Europe in Barcelona right at the beginning of that. Nevertheless, when I got back I dived right in for the 16 days' rehearsal we had left.

Vivian Majkowski joined us as voice coach (I've never had one of those in a production before). She took over our pronunciations of various Bulgarian words to ensure consistency, and also made damn sure that we treated Shaw's text properly. The dialogue is very melodic when spoken correctly and she insisted on us doing so: no extra or dropped words, just what was written. In a word, she was awesome: I learned a lot from her.

I played Petkoff as a bumbling British Army officer type, say from the 1950s. I had a really clear picture of what I wanted to do, if you're English think Leslie Phillips crossed with Stephen Fry in Blackadder Goes Forth. So lots of blustering, a bit of an dim bulb, but good-hearted underneath.

The whole cast was wonderful. I haven't felt so much part of an ensemble as this for quite some time and it added to the satisfaction of the whole production. There were those I'd acted with (or been directed by) before: Mark, Kelly, Ashley, and Shaundra, and it was such a delight to be with them again. And there were those I'd not met previously: Steve, Laura, and Shale. All much better than I, so I'll have to watch out...

Murray held a Social Sciences class at the University at the time of this production and his students had to come see the show. Afterwards they had to write a short one-page hand-written essay on their favorite character, and why, and how the actor portrayed that character. He photocopied the best ones for us to read.

There was one student who decided that Petkoff was her favorite, and here's what she wrote:

[Major Petkoff] was my favorite because he reminded me of my dad who is always reading the newspaper, looking at pretty girls, and spilling crumbs on himself. He even has a favorite bathrobe he wears around the house on weekend mornings. He talked about Sergius the same way my dad talks about my sister's husband. I also thought the actor who played him was very cute, like an English teddy bear. The Major is such a nice man, really, even if he isn't the swiftest officer I ever met, which means he is even more comfortable to be around. He also found just how to handle his wife, something I wish my dad was a little better at!

I can tell she was an extremely perceptive and canny student.


Raina PetkoffShaundra Noll
Catherine PetkoffAshley Crockett
LoukaLaura Norman
Captain BluntschliKelly Walters
Major PlechanoffShale LePage
NicolaSteve Emily
Major Paul PetkoffJulian M Bucknall
Major Sergius SaranoffMark Hennessy

Review from The Gazette

For near-perfect play, take up 'Arms'


When a theater critic is reduced to finding fault with a character's coat, it's a sign that the production was flirting with perfection.

And that's the case with Theatreworks' new staging of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man."

The ensemble is stellar and the production values worthy of the Denver Center in this surprising mix of wit, intelligence and pure silliness.

It's the night after the battle of Slivnitsa, the decisive engagement of the Serbo-Bulgarian War. (That's November 1885, and don't worry, I had to look it up, too.)

The setting is the boudoir of Raina Petkoff, a young Bulgarian woman with intensely romantic ideals. As she contemplates her fiance, the dashing Sergius, leader of the glorious Bulgarian cavalry charge, her reverie is interrupted by Bluntschli, a fleeing Swiss mercenary employed by the Serbs.

This odd romantic comedy is equal parts farce and philosophy, in which recurring gags such as Sergius' problems with his sabre take their place alongside intellectual discussions of war, social class and love.

There are cheap shots at provincial pretensions — Raina's mother brags that the family can trace its lineage back nearly 20 years — and nearly everyone, servants as well as the elder Petkoffs, is astonishingly articulate.

Director Murray Ross and his cast have projected the play's sense of fun without blunting its intelligence.

The characterization is sharp; everyone has a moment to shine, and everyone takes advantage of it. It's one of the best and best-balanced casts to appear on a local stage.

Shaundra Noll, who now acts professionally in New York, makes a welcome return to perform Raina.

To her quirkily beautiful and marvelously expressive face, Noll has added a fuller vocal range: The change in her tone when Bluntschli sees through her affectations is one of the production's best moments.

Kelly Walters is charming both as the first act's exhausted soldier and the subsequent acts' suave businessman. As Sergius, Bluntschli's Byronic rival for Raina's affection, Mark Hennessy builds wonderfully, with each frustrated outburst bigger and more melodramatic than the one before.

Sergius is perhaps the play's most intriguing character, and Hennessy makes him convincing at every moment, even when Shaw didn't.

From Major Petkoff's riotously exaggerated reaction to one of Sergius' tales to his glacially slow double-take in Act 3, Julian Bucknall gives a masterful comic performance.

Also masterful are Michael Stansbery's sets, Lloyd Sobel's lights — including the first act's exquisite candlelight effect and the amazingly outdoorsy look of the second act's garden — and Betty Ross' sumptuous yet authentic costumes.

But what about Petkoff's coat — the one Raina gave to Bluntschli for his escape, the one with the incriminating inscription on the photograph she stuffed in its pocket?

It looks too much like a bathrobe here, but the fault lies not with Ross but with Shaw.

About this crucial coat, which must be equally suited for keeping the Bulgarian winter at bay and for lounging around the house, he gives us hardly a word of description.

(c) The Gazette, 2006