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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

New Translation of Molnár's 1910 The Guardsman
Deftly Performed

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

Jon Barker and Victoria Mack
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne triumphed on Broadway in 1924 in Grace I. Colbron and Hans Bartsch's frothy translation of Ferenc Molnár's 1910 Hungarian comedy The Guardsman (and were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Actress for their performances in the 1931 film adaptation). However entertaining the Colbron-Bartsch adaptation, it severely truncated the play and the philosophical profundity and sadness which underpinned the somewhat farcical boulevard comedy.

Frank Marcus, Richard Nelson, and now Bonnie J. Monte have written new translations of The Guardsman aimed at bringing to English speaking audiences, the depth, detail and richness of the original. It is notable that, according to Nelson, Molnár wrote The Guardsman while recovering from a mental breakdown and attempted suicide brought about by his break-up with an actress. Furthermore, Molnár himself said that the Colbron-Bartsch version was not an accurate reflection of the play that he had written.

Monte has restored the setting to Budapest. Although The Actor and The Actress have been married for only six months, they are constantly bickering. Egotistical, but emotionally fragile, and fearful of middle age, The Actor is convinced that his wife is no longer in love with him. Believing that it is only a matter of time until she finds a lover, The Actor disguises himself as a royal military officer of the Imperial Guard and proceeds to attempt to seduce her.

Jon Barker and Victoria Mack are each outstanding as The Actor and The Actress. Barker makes the humorous foolishness and absurd egotism of The Actor part and parcel of the fear caused by his perception of the fragility of his situation. His ridiculously funny accent as the Guardsman evokes Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. Mack initially plays The Actress as a bored, angrily passive-aggressive princess who only comes to life when contemplating and receiving the romantic ministrations of her guardsman. Mack's performance culminates with an intriguingly layered portrayal of shifting emotions. Barker and Mack nicely weave in the theatrical posturing that is part of their characters' natures.

Wendy Barrie-Wilson conveys the troublemaking heart beneath the jovial façade of the servant-confident to The Actress known as Mama; Brent Harris as The Critic who is the best friend of the troubled couple illuminates complicated feelings; and Sheffield Chastain has a sharp comic presence as The Debt Collector.

Paul H. Canada's costumes are extravagant and evocative. The lavish set (for the salon in the home of the Actor and the Actress) by Brittany Vasta is in shades of purple and awash with frills, fringes, and floral patterns on furniture, lampshade, curtains and valences. It is very overly busy and quite distracting. The distractions in design extend to the private opera box setting of the second of three acts. Despite this, Vasta's setting is eminently playable. It is richly employed by director Bonnie J. Monte who deploys her actors easily about its multiple playing areas, each of which affords good viewing angles for the entire audience. Monte has meticulously drawn out complicated, nuanced, and revealing performances.

In her director's notes for the current Shakespeare Theatre production, translator-director Monte has helpfully commented, "Whether The Guardsmanis more an agonized comedy or a very funny tragedy is up to each viewer."

The Guardsman continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday & Sunday 7:30 pm; Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturdays & Sundays 2 pm) through July 26, 2015, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online:

The Guardsman by Ferenc Molnár; new adaptation (from a literal translation by Gábor Lukin) and direction by Bonnie J. Monte

Mama……………………………Wendy Barrie-Wilson
The Actor……………………………………Jon Barker
Helene, The Actress…………………..Victoria Mack
Doctor Mezei, The Critic……………….Brent Harris
Bette, The Maid…………………………Saluda Camp
The Debt Collector……………….Sheffield Chastain
The Usherette………………………….Noreen Farley
The Trunk Movers…….Julian Gordon, Patrick Hart

Photo: Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

- Bob Rendell

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