Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Guardsman Leaner and Funnier in NoHo

A New translation of Ferenc Molnar’s The Guardsman

Actors and others for farce take heed.  There’s a new trimmed down version of the classic play The Guardsman translated by H. Patrikas Zakshevskis in town. Director Lillian Groag, guides her actors with a steady hand and an appreciation for comedy too rarely seen on the stage.  The words all work, but it’s the Business that brings this show to the top of the heap.   The NoHo Arts Center is a jewel box, no question.  Every show I’ve seen there for the past many years has had a professional set and a professional attitude and if there was another use of the word ‘professional’ I could think of, I’d include it.  Yes, a professional approach to presentation of rollicking fine theatre.

Welcomed into the steeply raked house by two wonderful footmen (Josh Imlay and Chad Anthony Miller) we observe that they are literally cleaning the theatre from top to bottom.  They dust each seat and then inspect and spruce up one another.    Tidying up.  Dusting.  Rearranging and re-rearranging in simple little dance movements.  Super supernumeraries!  Really... Just super. 

Playwright Molnar was born in the nineteenth century and wrote plays and film scripts well into the twentieth. One of his most noteworthy, Lilliom, became the film and Broadway hit Carousel.  After seeing another version of this play at Pasadena’s A Noise Within that lumbered on for three acts, this version hits the stage a pace and never lets up, even with well choreographed scene changes attended to with precision by our dancing footmen.

Actors Max Schumann (protean Henry Olek) and his wife, Elena (glamorous Susan Priver) have been married for many years.  Elena has had affairs that are now just whispers of her past and except for Max’s doubts, they are more or less inconsequential.    As a ‘great actor’ Max plots to test Elena’s loyalty, all the while unintentionally capturing the heart of the adorable little maid, Berta (Kaitlin Huwe) who has been falling in love with “The Guardsman” (Max in disguise) while watching for him out the window. 

Dr. Heinrich Kraus , (suave David Fruechting), a theatre critic, is Max’s confidant and doubts very much that Max can fool his wife. To sweeten the deal, for weeks Max has been sending roses daily from “The Guardsman” to charm her.  

Joel Daavid’s fantastic set with gilt and flowing curtains sets the scene in fair Vienna where our story unfolds.  Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are exquisite, especially Elena’s flowing panne velvet gown to meet her admirer (The Guardsman) at the opera. It's a challenging and thoughtul farce that challenges the imagination and succeeds.   If Max fools his wife and woos her away from himself, he's a great actor.  If she sees through the disguise, he's not as great as he thought. But.. Elena is an actress!  Is she pretending to be wooed?  The eyes have it!

The Guardsman (Max in disguise) and his sword steal the show.  Physical comedy is always a challenge and Groag guides her cast with precision.  We rarely credit the director enough because mostly it’s only clunky direction that calls attention to itself.  Her scenes flow flawlessly. Michael Gend’s lights are fine, but some mysterious lighting changes seemed to be for no real reason in particular.   

This ninety minute show is, simply, a pleasure.  Having recently been dismissed from A Noise Within’s critic list (probably for being impatient with their inferior Macbeth this season), I must say that when a producer pays attention to the work and engages a professional director and actors, it pays off.  If any theatre that invites critics and reviewers to see their shows expects a puffy review when the show does not stand up, they should think twice about inviting critics who tell the truth as they see it.  A ‘soft’ notice cheats the readers who may decide to see a play based on a review that may not be totally honest.

The air conditioning bill at NoHo Arts must expensive.  Sitting with a chilly wind blowing on my neck is probably on me.  With no intermission, it was untimely to try to find a leeward seat to enjoy the show from.  Regardless, this production is a winner and missing it would be a crime.  Bring a sweater!

(world premiere of H. Patrikas Zakshevskis’ translation)
Directed by Lillian Groag
NoHo Arts Center 11136 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m.
 Sundays @ 7 p.m. thru June 22, 2014
Tickets and information 323 960 4418

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