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August 12, 2004
by ELLIN BELTZ
ENTER THE GUARDSMAN at Redwood Curtain Theatre is a dazzling musical
interpretation of Ferenc Molnár's 1910 risqué comedy
The Guardsman. Adapted by an American team, the backstage
play features seven performers including the incomparable Mark
Allen Johnston as a blocked Playwright so desperate for new material
that he instigates and encourages an immense relationship test
between his leading actors, played by Brad Curtis and Susan Abbey.
The Actor and Actress married six months previously as their
hit play opened, but now are in a personal and professional slump.
The Actor, worried about his wife's apparent lack of interest,
concocts a scheme to test her fidelity. With encouragement from
the Playwright, he dresses up as a guardsman and attempts to
seduce his own wife.
Meanwhile their play must go
on. The plot is revealed to us in between many realistic "Five
minutes, Ma'am" and "Here's your costume, Sir,"
moments delivered by the Dresser (Carolyn Ayres), Wardrobe Mistress
(Caroline Goin), Assistant Stage Manager (Ryan Arthur Dominguez)
and Wigs Master (Heath Houghton).
[Brad Curtis and
Susan Abbey as the Actor and Actress]
Director Clint Rebik leads his
cast in and out of the essential paradox of long-term relationships:
the balance between desire for forbidden temptations and the
need for emotional security.
The musical is a roaring success
from beginning to end. The audience was captivated from beginning
to end, laughing at the obvious and subtle jokes with which the
score is peppered. The musical numbers are interesting, the score
infinitely variable, the leads excellent and the supporting players
a delight to watch.
As the tormented husband, Curtis
is a chameleon, switching from hunchbacked desperation to swashbuckling
guardsman with every fiber of his being. Curtis is such a good
actor that I didn't recognize him as the passive Herr Schultz
from NCRT's recent smash Cabaret until I read the program
three times to be sure, at intermission . Abbey is a perfect
foil for him; we're never sure if she recognizes her husband
in his disguise or not.
Surprisingly for musical theater,
each character is a fully developed individual. We understand
the tortured playwright, even if we disagree with his motives.
We glimpse into the lives of the backstage staff while they advance
the plot. Partially revealing the Actor's deceit, the resourceful
and affectionate Houghton gives Abbey a key clue when he says
that if the guards were in town he would know. Early on Abbey's
dresser and confidant urges her to have an affair. Later, in
the second act, Ayres nearly steals the show in her cameo piece,
"Waiting in the Wings."
Dominguez is very believable
as the harried and officious assistant stage manager while wardrobe
mistress Goin has not only the loveliest voice in the show, but
a non stop energy and vivacity that carries every number in which
The music was directed by Angela
Carbiener who also accompanies the entire show on piano, at times
coaxing half an orchestra out of a simple spinet.
Enter the Guardsman takes place
in a theater. The audience looks from the backstage towards the
seats. In the foreground are two symmetrical dressing rooms and
lounges in which the characters can understand or misunderstand
each other simultaneously. The realistic and spacious set, designed
by Daniel C. Nyiri, utilizes the whole floor space and the three-sided
seating well although the best seats remain in the stage center
The lighting design by Jesse
Talbert was just about perfect. His use of light and the scrim
carried the climax of the play to its logical fade to black.
Sound design by Jon Turney was unobtrusive, but believable.
The costumes are nothing short
of fabulous. Kevin Sharkey has assembled an incredible group
of pre-World War I outfits, including Abbey's red beaded gown
and gloves that will linger in your memory for a long time.
The play was an unexpected pleasure
because it has a spotty production history; in some places it
works and in others it doesn't. This time it's superb.
The theater is not large and
seating is by time of arrival, so call today and get there early
for the best seats.
Enter the Guardsman runs at Redwood Curtain Theatre, 800 West Harris
St., Eureka, until Sept. 18. Tickets are available online at
www.redwoodcurtain.com or by calling 443-7688.
Sept. 2, is Actor's Benefit Night for the cast and crew of Oklahoma.
The show continues through Sept. 4, at the Ferndale Repertory
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