It is easy to love to laugh or laugh at love, whichever you prefer along with The Guardsman at The Kennedy Center. The original play written by Ferenc Molnár, tells the story of The Actor and The Actress (Sarah Wayne Callies) in Budapest in 1910 who marry and after six months their love falls flat. To entice his bride, The Actor (Finn Wittrock) tries to deceive her by convincing her to fall in love with a local guardsman, which is actually him in a “disguise”. Hilarity ensues from there as his plan seems to crumble before his eyes.
Wittrock leads the cast in his role as The Actor. He sets the stakes high to revitalize his relationship with his wife. There is a fine line he rides throughout the show of when he is acting and when he is letting his true emotions show through to her. Wittrock is used rather used to the high stakes in last production of Death of a Salesman on Broadway opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that intensity he certainly brings to this show.
Callies fights her husband, and tries to refuse her “strange” suitor, but can only will herself through so many trials. She beautifully plays a proud woman with grace and an admirable sense of vulnerability. You are left wondering through the show if or when she catches on to her husband’s plan, until all is revealed in the ending. Callies was a pleasure to watch on the stage, although she is easily recognizable from her role on The Walking Dead.
The cast is rounded out by The Actress’ servants, her “Mother,” the hysterically funny Julie Halston, who serves as her confidante, continually rooting for the actress, but has a watchful eye on the schemes of the actor. Halston also guides The Maid, Annie Funke to the staff. Funke’s character may have needed some guidance but she stole a few moments of the show with her physical comedy. It may be her first time on The Kennedy Center stage, but she owned her supporting role and left you wondering where she would pleasantly pop up again.
The Critic, Shuler Hensley, was The Actors’ sidekick, and he never supported his plan of deception, but he did not miss the opportunity to watch it unfold and enjoy a few laughs himself. Hensley had incredible comedic timing, and compliments the intensity that Wittrock brought to several scenes. He shows his commitment to The Actresses as the loyal friend, and is always willing to point out The Actors’ flaws.
Although this comedy was rather light hearted, the sets were so dramatic. The play took place in the couple’s home and in a private box in an opera house. Being a period show there is always a challenge to maintain the integrity of the time, but the sets by John Lee Beatty were stunning. The home and opera box look luxurious with rich fabrics and colors filling the grand spaces. The couple certainly does well for themselves as actors with such a beautiful home.
The lighting is also very complementary of the set. The set includes two large full floor length windows in the home and Peter Kaczorowski created the allusion of natural light coming in those windows and well as beautifully using several practical chandeliers to set the mood in a few scenes. Scott Lehrer’s sound design also builds the mood in Act II as well. The opera underscores the whole first scene and builds in the few tense moments that arise only bringing you another step deeper into the play.
Under Gregory Mosher’s direction and with Richard Nelson’s translation, this show really allows you to laugh and think about some of those silly things people do when they are in love. It analyzes the things people go out of their way to do to prove something to their lover or to others who have opinions about their relationships, and tries to answer the question, “Why?”
Although the show begins with a lot of exposition, it really does pick up and the laughter only continues to grow as the plot begins to thicken.
Love makes people do crazy things, and in Budapest they just seem to get even crazier with plots of deception like this! The Guardsman is a great time in the theatre. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission.