What began life as a Freudian examination of marriage and voyeurism instead becomes a standard-issue romance—as if anybody might try seducing his own wife in disguise as way to enhance his marriage. Still, even with a wimpy second act, the West Coast premiere of Scott Wentworth's Enter the Guardsman at the Laguna Playhouse is the kind of evening that gives fans of musicals reason for great hope. Tightly structured and directed with considerable bounce by its author, Laguna's Guardsman fits so comfortably into the Moulton Theatre that midsize houses will want to give the play a spin in the months to come. They'd be wise to try. All you really need to make this baby sing is seven actors (no chorus!), a small orchestra and some nice period frills.
Like the Ferenc Molnar play on which it's based, this is the tale of a husband-and-wife acting team who, six months into marriage, settle into passionless complacency. To shake things up and test his wife's fidelity, the husband (played by Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle) dons a soldier's uniform and, as another man, woos his wife (Barbara Passolt). If the guardsman fails, the husband's faith in his wife is restored. If the wife succumbs, then the real questioning begins.
The Molnar play is a bit more demented than Wentworth and the composing team of Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler are willing to allow, so we get the pasteurized version with lots of humor (much of which comes from Barnicle) and great visuals (particularly the rose-filled song "The Language of Flowers"). Passolt is lovely and winsome but doesn't have the sense of mystery this character needs. Ann Sheffield's sepia-heavy set is enhanced by the soft, dream-like lighting of Paulie Jenkins. Dennis Castellano's six-member band is visible behind a center-stage scrim, helping to establish the aura of theater life as it's being depicted and—quite often—lampooned.
ENTER THE GUARDSMAN at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through Dec. 3. $34-$43.
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