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Enter the Guardsman

Theatre Review by Wendy Guida

Sam and Diane. David Addison and Maddy Hayes. Ross and Rachel. You remember what happened. They finally gave in to all that sexual tension and the plot lines dried up. People may have different theories about why this happens, but they have known for ages that it is true. That’s why every woman who ever got involved with Captain Kirk was sure to contract a fatal disease or get run over by a car. Requited love is boring.

So what to do if you have just married your leading lady, the woman who stands on stage with you every night, making magic, falling in love, fulfilling your dreams? If you are The Actor in Enter the Guardsman , you prepare for marriage’s “long run” and begin a scheme to liven things up again.

Enter the Guardsman is a delightful, funny new musical being performed at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Yes, this is rather further off Broadway than I usually travel, but it was worth the trip for such a stellar cast and entertaining show.

Robert Cuccioli, best known for his work in Jekyll & Hyde, is a revelation to me; I had no idea he could be so funny. He is famous for his intensity and romantic passion (as well as his hair), but here he allows himself to be a complete goofball. Walking the line between dashing and pathetic, he can laugh at himself and go beyond his good looks to find his character’s vulnerability. His extraordinary appeal creates a sense of anticipation whenever he is on stage. One song which showcases his comedic talents is “The Actor’s Fantasy” in which he imagines the man who would be able to seduce his very discriminating wife. In this very funny song, Cuccioli’s timing and inventive use of props are both superb.

I don’t know about you, but I adore Mark Jacoby. I first saw his work when he portrayed Father in Ragtime, and in this show he does not disappoint. We are in very sure hands as he leads us, as the charming but devilish ghost of The Playwright, through the story of these two actors’ marriage. What is particularly juicy about his role is that while The Playwright is a friend of The Actor and The Actress, he also intentionally complicates things. His goal is not to achieve a happy ending easily, but rather to see what happens when he “drops a match into the tinderbox of the human psyche.”

Dana Reeve has a lovely voice and ably portrays a woman who is sensual and longs for the excitement of the chase. It is said of her that she only has a “six month romantic attention span,” but now she is expected to be committed to one man. She and Cuccioli play off each other very well, and their scenes are extremely funny. In one scene, an angry Reeve powders her bosom so furiously, the stage becomes clouded with talc. Yet she maintains her composure, uttering lines to her husband such as “you run along and be a good little Hamlet” as she schemes to meet her secret admirer.

The supporting cast is fairly good. The Dresser, played by Derin Altay, performs some terrific songs, including “You Have the Ring,” in which she convinces The Actress that marriage will enable her to get away with more than ever before, and “Waiting in the Wings” about her own lost loves. As The Assistant Stage Manager, Buddy Crutchfield needs more definition for his character, and Kate Dawson as the Wardrobe Mistress, though trying hard to be sweet, has a slightly shrill voice. Russell Ferracane stands out as a very entertaining Wigs Master.

The composer of Enter the Guardsman, Craig Bohmler, loves melody. His ballads are lush and memorable, and his funny tunes complement the humor of the lyrics. To use a phrase I believe I coined, Marion Adler’s lyrics are “wince-free.” She steers clear of cliche and explores the show’s themes with depth and clever wit. In one song she has The Actor lamenting the fact that his wife has been listening to Chopin nocturnes, a sure sign, he believes, that he is losing her. Scott Wentworth’s book is fast-paced and has a lot of payoff. The characters are distinct and recognizable.

Molly Reynolds has done double duty in designing both the sets and costumes. The gowns are simply gorgeous and there is great attention to period detail. The use of sets and props is especially delightful in “The Language of Flowers,” as the entire stage blooms before our eyes.

During the overture the audience is given a view of the musicians performing behind a scrim. They are backlit and interesting to watch, but also serve as a hint of things to come. Enter the Guardsman is very much about what lies beneath the surface: of marriage, of theatre and of life. Enter the Kirby Theatre as soon as you can and see for yourself.

Enter the Guardsman, book by Scott Wentworth, based on Ferenc Molnar’s The Guardsman. Music by Craig Bohmler. Lyrics by Marion Adler. Directed by Scott Wentworth. Scenic and Costume Design by Molly Reynolds. Lighting Design by Bruce Auerbach. Orchestrations and Music Direction by Craig Bohmler. Starring Robert Cuccioli, Dana Reeve, Mark Jacoby, Derin Altay, Kate Dawson, Russell Ferracane, Buddy Crutchfield.

Theatre: The F. M. Kirby Theatre at Drew University, The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.

Schedule: Tues through Saturdays through October 3, 1999. Call for exact schedule.

Tickets: $24 - $38.

To order tickets, and for directions, call (973) 408-5600.