July 17, 2010 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
The Berkshires have been rocking with all sorts of humor this summer, and for a very special kind, done by six versatile actors, one need go no further than to the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, where Ferenc Molnar’s wickedly wicked The Guardsman tops the BTF schedule through July 31, 2010.
All the actors are not only accomplished actors in their own rights, but in this play they get to play actors being actors in a situation that lets them soar into flights of theatrical extrvagance that involve not only stunning costumes (David Murin) but employing nuanced pauses, split-second timing, and extravagant gestures of flamboyance or ennui.
The plot conerns An Actor (Michael Gill) who, doubting his wife’s fidelity, creates a dashing character of a Russion guardsman in which to parade past her window and entice her to an assignation to prove his mistrust of her. The wife (Jayne Atkinson) is also An Actess, and therein lies the dashing hero’s downfall. Two can play at this game, and they do.
The marital pursuit to enwrap involves three scenes, meticulously and lavishly designed by Alexander Dodge – the three acts opening and closing with the opulent living room, over-decorated with painting from floor to ceiling, cut flowers, grand piano, where The Actress can play a bit of Chopin swooningly or nostalgically, and photos and trunks for traveling actor gear when needed.
But the attempted seduction occurs at the opera in a box and opulent anteroom, which is the scene for act II before their return full circle to their own apartment where the plot can unwind. Despite the two intermissions the play os briskly and rewardingly presented in less than three hours and seems shorter.
All six of the actore (lower case) are TALENTED ACTORS, all working in unison in a manner that is a joy to behold. Director John Rando has done them and himself proud.
The Guardsman began its American career in 1924 in Manhattan and is remembered as the play in which for the first time the Lunts played opposite each other and decided to be husband/wife team for the rest of their lives.
Atkinson and Gill are also a married duo who seem to know so much about each other that they act off each in an instinctive way. In some way each seems attempting to overtop the line delivered by the other, with one laugh evoking another.
Atakinson also has brilliantly funny scenes with Mama (Mary Louise Wilson) and Liesel, the maid (Tara Franklin) in which the other two women aid and abet in her chicanery. Mama has been with the Actress for years, coping with her moods. THe young maid has been with her long enough to have learned all the tricks of her mistress and connives gaily with her. Franklin is especially adept in creating a maid character completely different from that in which she shone last season at BTF in Ghosts.
In tribute to their starring co-ators, Richard Euston and Stephen DeRosa each takes on two minor but significant roles. Euston as The Critic shines especially in the first act in a long scene with the Actor in which he inhabits a chair with bodily movements so bizarre and lithe he has to be seen and cheered. DeRosa is at his best as A Creditor, haggling for an unpaid costume bill for the magnificient costume in which THe Actor woos his own wife.
This is a deligtful play in which the Lunts, starring the first time in duo roles, were speeded on a long career as co-stars. One could hope that the futures of these actors, already well on the way, will continue too with such challenges and glory.
This play is a six-star winner!