The Price of Playing for Love: The Guardsman
By Robin Hamilton
Can a lovelorn marriage be saved if a jealous husband suspects his wife is having an affair? What if the object of her desire is in fact her husband – but disguised as a mysterious, handsome soldier?
No, this isn’t a salacious reality or talk show. Rather, it is the plot of “The Guardsman”, a play that peels back the complex and intricate layers of a marriage. Currently running at the Kennedy Center for the next several weeks, the play is based on the original 1910 work of Hungarian writer Ference Molnár. Beyond the curtain, we get a glimpse into the lives of a couple entangled in an emotional tussle over jealousy, insecurity, and the power of love.
The story centers around two successful actors in Budapest, who have been married to each other for only 6 months. The husband, played by Finn Wittrock, suspects his wife, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, is losing interest in him. Desperate to win her affection back, he confides in a friend, (acted with comedic precision by Shuler Hensley), on the role of a lifetime: that of a handsome Hungarian general. In this disguise, he plans to seduce his wife and win her love once more.
But with whom is she really falling in love? If she believes his act, will he be devastated by her desire to cheat? If she does not fall into this soldier’s arms, does this prove her love and loyalty to her husband?
When Molnár wrote this story more than 100 years ago, it was in some ways autobiographical, a reflection of his own tortured romance. However, the play would be adapted as a comedy in 1924, twisting the dynamic of the piece, and devastating the playwright.
Today, Richard Nelson has revisited the story with a new translation. His adaptation restores some of the genuine heartache Molnár must have originally intended. Under the direction of Gregory Mosher, the actors play off each other convincingly, infusing moments of humor without forsaking the pains that can come with love.
“The Guardsman” leaves even the most hopeful romantic conflicted over the roles one must play when it comes to matters of the heart.
The Guardsman is currently running at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre through June 23rd.