“The Guardsman” is a delightful little romantic romp, now playing in repertory at A Noise Within in Pasadena. If there is a lesson at all in this classic, it is do not marry an actor.
This is infidelity based on fidelity so your moral sensibilities won’t suffer when you’re admiring the witty words and graceful flutterings of the well-to-do. This isn’t a Greek tragedy along the lines of Cephalus and Procris, but a flirty little play where the marriage survives with a qualified happily ever after.
Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar wrote only “The Guardsman” in 1910. He is better known for his 1909 play, “Liliom” which was translated into English and found success on Broadway. From there, that play became the inspiration for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 “Carousel,” another Broadway success.
At the time he wrote the play, he was divorcing his first wife, a journalist and painter. He’d have two more wives, both actresses and would divorce both.
When “The Guardsman” debuted on Broadway in 1925, it starred a real-life couple (Alfred Lunt and Lyne Fontanne” who would reprise their roles in the 1931 Oscar-nominated movie.
The adaptation that A Noise Within is using for “The Guardsman” is a different translation. Translator Frank Marcus was born in 1928 in Germany according to the program. Disallowing time travel and ripples in the space-time continuum, this makes the possibility of Marcus supplying a translation for Lunt and Fontanne quite impossible. (The movie is NOT available on either Netflix or Amazon.com).
A Noise within gives a stylish production. Scenic Designer Tom Buderwitz gives the spare stage the feeling of luxury with the piano and overstuffed furniture that includes a fainting chair, of course. Garry D. Lennon’s costumes transport us to another era and a class where hard work is a foreign language. Director Michael Michetti adjusts the pace accordingly.
The Actor (the handsomely dashing Freddy Douglas) and his wife, the Actress (a nimbly sly Elyse Mirto) have been married less than a year. The Actress has been scandalously generous with her affections, at least for this ornate era. She’s had about 11 although her husband, the Actor believes it is more like ten. The Critic (Robertson Dean) has been studiously keeping count, lamenting that he was not among the lucky.
Yet the Actor knows his wife usually loses interest by month six. Feeling that the romance has left their marriage, bothered by her constant playing of Chopin, he has devised a scheme to find out if his wife still loves him and at the same time, bring the spark back into the marriage. The Actress is being courted by a Guardsman of aristocratic birth.
Disguising himself with a wig, mustache and a newly bought uniform that doesn’t quite match, the Actor comes to court his wife. The Critic is the witness and confidante of both sides.
From Dean’s squirming, you imagine the Critic is really rooting for himself while feebly supporting the marriage in as confused a manner as possible because in this case the Actor will be both pleased and disappointed if he succeeds in seducing his wife.
There is ego involved–an actor wants to be taken seriously and one of them is acting or perhaps both are. Douglas’ Actor is indulgently narcissistic, but not meanly and pettily so. He’s harmless except possibly to himself and that’s partially what makes this romantic comedy so engaging.
Not all of their inner circle are convinced of the good of this marriage. The Actress’ backstage helper who has now been adopted as “Mother” (Wendy Worthington) and relegated to a position between mother and housekeeper is definitely on the side in infidelity. Married, the Actress spends too much time at home instead of going out to the opera and taking her trusty servant as a chaperone. Who wouldn’t want to doff the apron and get into glamorous gowns for a night in intrigue and secrets?
The question in the end, is not just does the Actress really love her husband, but also how can you tell when really good actors are telling the truth? Michetti gives us a hint, but one really must decide for oneself in the end. Going to marry an actor? Marry a good man who’s a bad actor might be the moral of this comedy.