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[whitespace] 'Enter the Guardsman' Pair Shaped: Suzan Hanson and David Ledingham play a romantic game in 'Enter the Guardsman.'

Six-Month Itch

Love can't stop blooming in San Jose Rep's 'Enter the Guardsman'

By Michael J. Vaughn

FOR A MUSICAL whose plot looks pretty lightweight on paper, San Jose Rep's Enter the Guardsman carries a nicely nutritious intellectual edge, turning the "seven-year itch" of married life into a treadmill where the key to survival is a grand mutual illusion. In this case, however, it's more like a six-month itch. Our unhappy couple are both thespians, generically referred to as The Actor (David Ledingham) and The Actress (Suzan Hanson), and they are both a little too addicted to the romantic thrills written for them by The Playwright.

The Actor knows that the bloom is off the rose, because his wife has taken to playing Chopin nocturnes on her dressing-room piano. Things get worse when an anonymous admirer begins sending roses to his wife, sending him into paroxysms of jealousy. But then The Actor reveals to The Playwright that he, The Actor, is the sender of the roses. "So, you're jealous of yourself?" asks The Playwright. "No," replies The Actor, "I'm jealous of the man who has apparently taken form in my wife's imagination." The Playwright, more than willing to "stir the pot" suggests The Actor appear as the fantasy man himself and, Cosi fan tutti-like, seduce his own wife. This immediately appeals to The Actor's professional pride, and thus enters The Guardsman.

Variations of this plot have been around for, oh, a couple millennia (this one based on Ferenc Molnar's 1911 farce), but the show carries a contemporary sensibility that makes things more complicated than they might seem. For one, book writer Scott Wentworth's setting is decidedly postmodern. We're never quite sure if we are witnessing the "actual" backstage events, or if this is, in fact, the eventual story created by our narrator, The Playwright. Wentworth also keeps the fourth wall plenty permeable; at one point, the composer himself, conducting from the pit, volunteers as a possible model for The Actress's fantasy man. As for that composer, Craig Bohmler, the prolific sometime-Los Gatan, brings an impressive array of musical weaponry to the task. His ability to mix light musical fare with striking passages of art music serves to underline the serious, sometimes troubling marital ideas lurking behind the masked-ball goofiness.

Though his later vocal lines fell flat, Ledingham adorned The Actor's self-cuckolding with some glorious physical humor. He is helped out enormously by the mischievous, avuncular Playwright, Van Norden. Suzan Hanson's Actress provided much of the troubling enigmas, wavering at a moment's notice from the truest of wives to the ficklest of harlots. Another standout was Meg Mackay, who invested The Dresser, a seemingly subordinate role, with loads of presence, and brought a rueful poignancy to "Waiting in the Wings," a song that otherwise seemed as tacked-on as a Post-It Note. The trio of backstage underlings provided an excellent backdrop, both musical and comical, highlighted by the Amy McAlexander's shining soprano as the Wardrobe Mistress and Laurent Giroux's barely closeted wig master.

Lillian Garrett-Groag's directorial touches are all over the place, small comic details like a severed-head prop that produces enough visual gags to merit its own program credit. B. Modern's costuming manages to exude cartoonishness and elegance all at once. Kent Dorsey's dressing-room sets feature glorious Art Deco trims around the doors, and he combines his lighting with the efforts of stage manager Jenny R. Friend to create a stunning final vision, a picture of benign illusion that every married couple in the audience should take home for future reference.

Enter the Guardsman plays Tuesday-Sunday through Jan. 7 in the Sobrato Auditorium, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $17-$37. (408.367.7255)

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From the December 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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