The role of Raina Petkoff, in George Bernard Shaw's satire Arms and the Man, fits Shaundra Noll perfectly.
"Raina is of comparable age to me," says the actress. "She's 23 and I'm 25, so I can understand what she's going through: that barrier of coming into womanhood and the sophistication you have to embrace to get past those idealistic views of what romance is."
Noll, a Colorado native, returned from her home in New York City, where she acts and teaches improvisation at Freestyle Repertory Theatre, to work with an award-winning, talented cast. They all have less than a month to rehearse for the UCCS Theatreworks production.
"It's great to work with people who really love to work and know how to work, and you need that in Shaw," says director Murray Ross. "It requires talented and sophisticated actors, because it's demanding material, but also rewarding material."
The play takes place in Bulgaria in 1885, while a war is going on between the Bulgarians and the Serbians. Raina, part of the most affluent family in Bulgaria, is set up by her family to marry Maj. Sergius, a war hero of the Bulgarian army, played by Mark Hennessy.
"On the surface, it's storybook, it's Cinderella and Prince Charming," Hennessy says. "But underneath, they are both filled with doubts."
When Capt. Bluntschli, a mercenary Swiss soldier from the Serbian army, played by Kelly Walters, climbs up Raina's balcony to escape from a battle defeat, he initially threatens her, but they then fall in love and he takes refuge in the Petkoffs' home.
"During the course of the play, you see [Raina] going through the motions as far as getting what she wants and Capt. Bluntschli, the "chocolate cream soldier,' is the only person who sees her for who she is," Noll says.
According to Walters, Bluntschli is Shaw's version of a romantic hero described by Shaw as anti-romantic, because he is a soldier who lives the realities of war.
"They call him the "chocolate cream soldier' because he knows you have to eat, and it is more important than carrying ammunition," he says. "He is sophisticated in the ways of the world, a pragmatist and an observer, much like Shaw was."
Ashley Crockett, winner of the 2006 Peak Area Performances and Artists Award for best actress, plays the feisty and fearsome Mrs. Petkoff, Raina's mother.
"She's the one who really idealizes the military or role of the heroic soldier and fills her daughter Raina's head with ideas," says Crockett of her character.
Although the production tackles the intense issues of love and war, it is also certain to be hilariously funny.
"It is somewhere between a farce, a melodrama and a social commentary all in one," Walters says. "You don't realize how funny it is until you're in the middle of it."
Arms and the Man
Theatreworks Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive
Thursday, Nov. 30 through Dec. 17; Wednesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.
Tickets: $12 to $22; call 262-3232 or visituccstheatreworks.com for more information.
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