North Coast Journal banner

August 12, 2004
Behind the Stage Door

An unexpected pleasure


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.Photo of the play Enter the Guardsman

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 she appears.

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 block.

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 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 Theatre, 786-LIVE.




North Coast Journal banner

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.