The intrepid folks at Pie Man Theatre have tapped a classic but still relevant play for their first major production of 2017.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” is on one level a silly farce filled with characters from a 19th century world where questions of heroism, romance and class are cloaked in a lofty idealism that Shaw sought to lampoon. On a deeper level, the work suggests the perils in blindly accepting beliefs not well-tethered to a harsh reality.

The Pie Man cast, under the direction of Stephanie Ross, meets the challenge of this 1894 play and then some in a very lively and spirited production fueled by a well-developed understanding of Shaw’s work.

The play concerns the consequences of the appearance of a Serbian soldier who, pursued by his Bulgarian enemies, desperately seeks safety by climbing to the bedroom of a young woman from an aristocratic-minded Bulgarian family. Raina, the young woman, though hilariously prone to all sorts of artificial declarations of outrage and feigned modesty, is intrigued by the fellow she comes to call her “chocolate cream soldier,” after he hungrily accepts her offer of some of the sweet.

The war over, Raina’s father and fiancé return to resume their civilian lives only to find that Raina’s brief visitor (actually a Swiss mercenary) has upset the household equilibrium, which he continues to do upon his return. Add Raina’s class-conscious mother and some feisty servants to the mix, and long held but musty traditions get a theatrical workout in wickedly witty ways.

Emily Grotz, a junior theater major at the University of Southern Maine, steps up admirably to a big role as Raina, a young diva who thinks she has everyone fooled with her privileged postures until the Swiss soldier brings her back to earth. Grotz was great fun to watch, whether smothering her fiancé’s photo with kisses or frantically trying to keep her newfound love interest a secret.

Josh Brassard, as that man, gets to instruct Raina and the others in the realities of war and the challenges of peacetime. Brassard effectively showed his character’s delight in dealing with his laughably pompous hosts.

Cameron Foley works hard to steal scenes as the fake hero fiancé who not-so-secretly fancies the brassy maid, played by Allison Kelly. Their love-hate dialogue revealed Shaw’s take on the shallow roots of many class distinctions and romantic notions. Howard Rosenfield captures the clueless soul of the patriarch of the family, while Patricia Mew amusingly reveals the matriarch’s calculating wit. Kyle Aarons completes the cast for this theater-in-the-round production in dual roles as a drunken officer and a put-upon servant.

The vaguely period and somewhat whimsical costumes and scenery provide just enough context for a play that comes from long ago to make us laugh and think today.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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