Can a jealous actor fool his cheating wife? Lillian Groag (artistic associate at the Old Globe) directs a new adaptation of The Guardsman, the comic tour de force about love, fidelity and illusion by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, opening May 17 at the NoHo Arts Center.
Starring Henry Olek (actor: Idiot’s Delight, Twentieth Century at the Lillian; screenwriter: All of Me starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, Serving Up Richard called “tasty” by the New York Times), Susan Priver (Backstage West awards for David Mamet’s Reunion and Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story), David Fruechting (The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder at Boston Court, The Flu Season at Circle X), Kaitln Huwe (member, Illyrian Players Theater Company), and Bonnie Snyder (The Seagull, Macbeth at Antaeus; By the Bog at Theatre Banshee), The Guardsman is Molnár’s 1910 masterpiece that inspired Harold Pinter’s The Lover.
The premise: thespian Max Schuman (Olek) is certain that his wife, actress Elena Beck (Priver), is being unfaithful, and disguises himself as a Russian guardsman to test her devotion.
In this new rendition by H. Patrikas Zakshevskis, Molnár’s classic has been freely adapted to be played by older actors. These are not the young twenty-somethings of the original — fresh newlyweds in the ascendance of their lives and relationship. This couple is in the autumn of their lives with a personal history between them that goes back much farther. They KNOW each other. A real-life couple who have performed opposite each other many times for over a decade, including in the award-winning production of Pinter’s The Lover and his A Slight Ache, Olek and Priver bring an important authenticity to their roles.
“The theme of jealousy, the driving force for all the events that occur in the play, has always been fascinating to me in a private way,” says Olek. “I experienced the ‘green eyed monster’ first hand, having been raised an only child by a father afflicted with pathological jealousy his whole life. My mom never learned to drive because she wasn't allowed to by my dad — too much freedom. She also couldn't go the grocery store by herself or anywhere else. Every day after school, it was my duty to walk mom from work. Yet no matter what precautions dad took to isolate her from imagined temptations, it was never enough to bring peace to his troubled brain. Even though this wasn't a funny situation, my mother and I found plenty in the ridiculousness to laugh and joke about.”
“Many modern productions play it strictly as comedy, but The Guardsman is not just fluff,” emphasizes Groag. “Our production stays true to Molnár’s intent – a lack of sentimentality and a high degree of neurosis are tantamount. It should be funny, but also a little disturbing.”
Set design for The Guardsman is by Joel Daavid; costume design is by Shon LeBlanc; lighting design is by Michael Gend; sound design is by David Marling; assistant director is Lupe Lucero; production stage manager is Laure Jamme; associate producer is Victoria Watson; and Racquel Lehrman/Theatre Planners produces.
Lillian Groag has directed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Old Globe Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Mark Taper Forum’s Taper Too, New York City Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Center Stage, The People’s Light and Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Missouri Repertory, Seattle Repertory, Glimmerglass Opera, Asolo Repertory Theatre, San Jose Repertory, A.C.T. in San Francisco, Juilliard School of Music, Florentine Opera, Kentucky Opera, Arizona Opera, Sundance Institute Playwrights’ Lab, Virginia Opera, Opera San Jose, Opera Omaha and the Company of Angels. Her plays The Ladies of the Camelias, The White Rose (AT&T award for New American Plays), The Magic Fire (Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays), Menocchio, Midons and her translation of Blood Wedding have been produced throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Performances of The Guardsman take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., May 17 through June 22. There will be two preview performances on Thursday, May 15 and Friday, May 16, both at 8 p.m. All tickets are $25, except previews which are $15. The NoHo Arts Center is located at 11136 Magnolia Boulevard in NoHo (North Hollywood, 91601). The NoHo Arts Center is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 960-4418 or go to www.plays411.com/guardsman.