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The Temptation: (l-r) Gill and Atkinson in The Guardsman.

The Charmer

By James Yeara

The Guardsman

By Ferenc Molnar, translated by Grace I. Colbron and Hans Bartsch, directed by John Rando

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Main Stage, through July 31

‘The Actress” (Jayne Atkinson) and “The Actor” (Michel Gill) are arguing when the curtain opens for director John Rando’s briskly paced production of this seldom seen 1910 comic gem by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar. That the curtain closes on almost an identical moment underscores how tight and grandly affected The Guardsman is. This is a comedy in a grand style, an exercise in manners, gestures, accents, and affection that elicits frequent laughter from the audience, but also hints at the theme weaving more gently through the genial farce: “Is there anything you can’t believe, if necessary?” as “The Critic” (Richard Easton) asks near the play’s end.

Set in the stylish Viennese apartment of the “The Actress and The Actor” and the equally stylish “Box Four, First Tier, Vienna Opera House” (the detailed and opulent scenic design is by Alexander Dodge with equally opulent and detailed costumes by David Murin), The Guardsman follows the six-month-old marriage of The Actress and The Actor at its moment of crisis. He frets over airy trifles he fears mean she no longer loves him. To test her fidelity, he has created temptation in “The Guardsman,” a Russian prince come to make love to The Actress, he confesses to The Critic. Testing fidelity is the stuff movies as recently as Chloe pivot on, and Molnar’s play is an excuse for grand acting that the cast (including Stephen DeRosa in dual roles as A Creditor in Acts I and III and usher in Act II and Tara Franklin as the gamine maid Liesel fawning over The Actor, and “Mama” a tart Mary Louise Wilson) embraces with ardor.

Real-life husband and wife Gill and Atkinson are obviously enjoying themselves as much as the audience enjoys their grand antics; they seems to wink with every grand gesture and, when The Actor becomes The Guardsman to woo his wife, the real fun in the Vienna Opera House box begins. “I was happy as a husband whose wife is true,” The Actor states, but then beams when he exclaims, “I was happy as An Actor who was true to his Part.”

What’s clear in The Guardsman is that The Part is greater than the sum of the roles.

With its slamming doors, listening at keyholes, shifting disguises—there’s a nifty bit of business in the third act when The Actress, reclining on the divan turned away from her husband, engages him on the business matters of another leading actor while The Actor changes into The Guardsman behind her—The Guardsman is an engaging slip of a farce, an antic charmer that is as fun for the cast as it is for the audience.

 


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