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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Guardsman
There is only one happy man in the world and I am that man. — The Actor
Victoria Mack and Jon Barker (photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar's rarely resuscitated, ultra sheer romantic comedy has been newly translated as well as directed by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte. It's based on a literal translation from the Hungarian by Gabor Lukin, Molnar's great grandson) for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

It is famously known as the vehicle that Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne chose in 1924 for their premiere partnership. History tells us this initial triumph bonded them for virtually a lifetime of co-starring successes. Nothing like that is expected of John Barker and Victoria Mack even if their dramatic range and comedic capabilities takes more than adequate command of the absurdity and inconsequentiality of Molnar's rather ridiculous story.

All the actors in this handsome-looking production have endeavored to sweep through it with all the style, charm and performing invention that they can muster. An unapologetic and unrelieved display of pretentions is apparently necessary to sustain and justify this play's presence. An actor and an actress, married for only six months, have become the toast of Budapest. Their private life, however, is disintegrating because of the actor's not wholly unjustified fear that his wife's loyalty cannot last longer than six months — the length of time she seems to have spent with each of her seven, or is it ten, previous lovers. The actress is receiving red roses from a mysterious stranger - the actor of course. Disguised as a Russian Cossack, the actor tests his wife's fidelity while he presumably is on tour.

While Molnar's more irresistibly comic The Play's The Thing and the tenderly romantic Liliom are unquestionably superior works, The Guardsman certainly affords opportunities for some grandly mannered acting. Barker, who is in his eighth season with the STNJ, and Mack, who is in her ninth season, appear to be having a field day up-staging and out-acting each other. Barker is a comically dashing Cossack and Mack is a flippant flirt. Together they make the most of the unbalanced, carefully constructed actor-actress duets.

But Monte's commendable translation still sounds like a translation, though it is fun to listen and to watch pros go over-the-top and still stay more or less grounded. Consideration for these preposterous characters in pre World War I Budapest is a necessity, even if it's a little hard to do. It isn't terribly hard to tolerate these characters as they fling themselves about designer Brittany Vasta's two elegant Belle Epoque settings all dressed up in the handsome attire provided by costume designer Paul H. Canada.

In support, Wendy Barrie-Wilson is fine as the actress's live-in adopted "Mama" and Brent Harris is better than that as the bored-by-it-all cynical critic-friend. You may feel as I did, that all the performers are basically in step with the illusive nature of the play and project an ultimately irresistible esprit de corps. That should be good enough.

The Guardsman by Ferenc Molnar
New adaptation by Bonnie J. Monte from a translation by Gabor Lukin
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast: Wendy Barrie-Wilson (Mama), Jon Barker (The Actor),Victoria Mack (The Actress), Brent Harris (The Critic), Saluda Camp (The Maid), Sheffield Chastain (The Dept Collector), Noreen Farley (The Usherette), Julian Gordon, Patrick Hart (The Trunk Movers)
Scenic Designer: Brittany Vasta
Costume Designer: Paul H. Canada
Lighting Designer: Steven Rosen
Sound Designer: Bonnie J. Monte
Production Stage Manager: Kathy Snyder
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including two intermissions
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, located on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Rd.) Madison, NJ.
Tickets: call 973 - 408 - 5600
Performances: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
From 07/08/15 Opened 07/11/15 Ends 07/26
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/15/15 .
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