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Similarly, in The Guardsman, The Actor, worried that he is losing The Actress, his notoriously fickle wife, second-guesses what she is after and then disguises himself as a made-to-order suitor. Although traditionally played for laughs, translator Nelson notes his aim to reclaim the heartbroken Molnar’s more authentic intent in which there is no sign of a happy ending.
Unfortunately, director Gregory Mosher blurs this interpretation with a mood that vacillates between the silly and the sort of serious. The result is neither fish nor fowl.
This unevenness is further evident in the two leads, with one responding to the darker themes of the translation and the other playing to the rafters. Trying for the complexities here is Sarah Wayne Callies, who as The Actress proves quickly that she can do more than outrun the walking dead. An actor of remarkable presence, she commands the eye and the ear even in repose. She convinces as a big and entitled personality and as a restless wife and does much to suggest the complicated woman behind the ambivalent flirting.
But she sits incongruous against Finn Wittrock’s Actor, who, played loud and energetic, seems an improbable match. As charismatic and good looking as Wittrock may be, his Actor presents as far too young for Callies’s Actress. And they share no sexual chemistry – nor its echo – that would explain the impetus for this marriage. And with the ruthless banter delivered without much in the way of subtext, it is hard to see where any affection may have lain, even if it has since been seen off the premises. Matters are not helped by Wittrock’s Guardsman, who tempts farcical when he’s not secretly angsting over his wife’s intentions. Without more, neither he nor The Actor convince as true contenders for the brooding subterranean needs of Callies’s Actress. Thus, without some sense of love or sex – lost, reclaimable or possible – the ”Will she? Won’t she?” of the traditional farce eludes as does the poignancy of the darker reading Molnar intended.
Doing their best, the supporting cast members keep the humor and pace intact, with Shuler Hensley standing out for the understated humor of his Critic, even if his devotion to the actorly couple is inexplicable.
And so, despite Nelson’s good intentions, The Guardsman offers little of the play Molnar may have wanted, and not all that much of the play he didn’t.