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Theatre Tue Apr 19 2011

ShawChicago's Arms and the Man: Bare-Bones but Beautiful

When I arrived at the DCA's Studio Theater to see ShawChicago's Arms and the Man two things struck me right away: (1) the stage was essentially bare and (2) I was by far the youngest person in the room. By, like, 30 years. But while first impressions can be lasting, they rarely tell the whole story.

This production, like the vast majority of ShawChicago's, is done in a "concert" format, complete with music stands for the scripts. Actors perform in modestly evocative costume, with minimal props, and standing in a straight line. They react and interact as if they were looking at one another, but in reality they never turn from the audience. When they're not in a particular scene, they sit down in a row of chairs at the back of the stage.

If this all sounds a little strange, well, it is. At first. But there is a certain genius to this staging strategy. The brilliance of Shaw's writing takes center stage, and one can't help but be captivated by the actors' thrilling (and increasingly hilarious) interpretation. The performers are all excellent, with a larger-than-life delivery that, combined with Shaw's masterful words, makes one breathe a sigh of relief that no scenery is involved, lest it wind up chewed.

This is by no means a typical theater-going experience, but it is definitely enjoyable. Those who are more interested in the content of a well-written play than the spectacle typically associated with a day at the theater will find themselves captivated, if gradually, by ShawChicago's latest production.

Arms and the Man is being presented in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and on Mondays at 7pm through May 15, at the DCA's Studio Theater, located at the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. Tickets are $22, $20 for seniors, or $10 for students. Tickets are available via shawchicago.org or by calling 312-587-7390.

 
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