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Behind the Curtain: Gregory Mosher on the plot of The Guardsman

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A very funny play about a very bad marriage. When Budapest's most beautiful and beloved young actress decides to marry, she of course chooses Budapest's most handsome and talented young actor. When she falls out of love a few months after the wedding, and the actor learns she is fantasizing about a courtier to the Emperor--a guardsman--the actor launches a mad plan to impersonate that very guardsman and seduce his own wife. The Guardsman was performed for decades in a drastic adaptation tailored to the light comedy skills of Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. Molnár was unhappy to see the passionate heart of his play cut out, but like many a writer before and since, he kept quiet and cashed the royalty checks. Playwright Richard Nelson recently re-discovered Molnár's original version, and has restored the young wife's real despair at being trapped, and her husband's insane jealousy of the other man, who is of course the actor himself. The funny play about the bad marriage is a classic setup, the greatest modern example being Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, while disguised lovers animate comic romps from Così fan tutte to Some Like It Hot. With The Guardsman, Molnár, who is best known for La Ronde and Liliom (the source for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel), created a comedy that ranks among the best of the genre.

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