‘Husbands & Lovers’ at Washington Stage Guild by Amanda Gunther

Lies deceive. The truth hurts. But in Washington Stage Guild’s presentation of Husbands & Lovers it isn’t always clear which is which or even the best! Written by Ferenc Molnàr and adapted as well as directed by Bill Largess this particular show makes its world premier here in DC just in time for the notions of young love blossoming in springtime. This roundelay of comic miniatures is a wry and wise look at the many ways in which women and men can drive each other crazy.

When you enter the house your ears are greeted with the soft minstrel music reminiscent of a stroll through a garden perhaps in Venice or one of those other notoriously romantic cities. Sound Designer Marcus Darnley uses this light airy music to invite audiences into the jovial and loving nature of the show that will play out on the stage before them. The stage itself is dressed simply – another fond memory of outdoor romance. Scenic Designers Carl F. Gudenius and Jie Yu frame the stage with woodwork that looks almost like the edging of a gazebo. There are two slender iron chairs and matching café table with a wooden bench in shades of earthy but muted green. Gudenius and Yu create a simplistic yet romantic atmosphere for love, lies, and laughs to develop, each scene taking place someplace a little different, from a balcony to a garden, all easily found in these very basic choices.

There are a dozen or more little vignettes that populate the show – all played out by four actors each taking on many roles. There are husbands and wives, lovers, old friends, young friends, a plethora of characters to encounter in these sprightly tales of delightful deception and teasing treachery. Director Bill Largess creates a definitive beginning and end to the show by letting the actors move almost like shadows; silhouettes of themselves in dim lighting across the stage in a dance-like motion, twirling from one partner to the next. And Largess guides his actors with conviction; as one scene ends a player from that story steps out of the scene to announce the setting for the next and each progression is made clearly without stumbling or pause. This really keeps the pace of the stories entertaining and allows for many of them to flow through in a short period of time.

The actors are commendable as they flow so gracefully from one character to the next, shifting with ease in physicality, vocalizations and emotional expressions from older characters to younger ones, from those married to those first experiencing love. The thing that really stands out about these performances is the level of chemistry that is constantly bubbling between the actors. They constantly switch off — two guys and two girl – each performing with everyone else in two-person scenes. But regardless of their character or scene the level of intimacy and familiarity is always high.

Conrad Feininger as “Him” is the more refined sophisticated male of the two in the show. One of his finest moments comes during a moment opposite Lynn Steinmetz as “She.” The pair is standing at the river on a chilly, dreary autumn morning when Feininger suddenly professes his love to Steinmetz. His rapid outburst of emotions comes pouring from his mouth like an eager waterfall his gestures matching his emotional excitement. This same high energy and exuberance is found during a scene shared with Peter J. Mendez as “He.” Only this time Feininger is a youth whose infatuation over an older married woman is the cause of his anguish. Feininger plays the highs of love and the lows of a fool with a solid commitment to both and never lets the matter of age interrupt his approach to the roles.

Peter J. Mendez has similar active energies about his person. Mendez’s shining moment unfolds in a scene with Steinmetz where she is a wealthy married Baroness and he is a lowly artist. He prostrates himself before her professing his deep unrequited love, literally throwing himself at her feet, kissing up the length of her arm as he begs to paint her. His emotional hysterics cannot be topped except by the quick change up that he presents at the end of the scene. He carries a suave air about him which translates from character to character without becoming hackneyed or overdone.

Conrad Feininger and Lynn Steinmetz. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

And ladies are the best liars, filled with trickery and deceit. Both Lynn Steinmetz as “She” and Laura Giannarelli as “Her” prove this point over and over again. These two women share an enticing scene as friends where Steinmetz is the listeners and Giannarelli relishes in a tale of her truthful deceit in regards to a secret key and its explanation to her husband. Giannarelli is a vivacious character actor especially when she plays the youthful girl struck by her first love; caught up in the notion of a first love one moment and then painfully scorned in tantrum the next.

Lynn Steinmetz as “She” provides a myriad of women to this show. The moment that stands out the most is when she is dissecting a missed opportunity with Peter J. Mendez from ten years prior. She speaks with a wistful romantic air as she recounts all of the things that could have happened and then drops into a crass and blatant explanation of the things that did happen. Steinmetz is a pivotal actor who flounces easily through a garden of emotions all displayed upon her face with wide eyes to project surprise, a twisted smile to celebrate her simple deceptions and an uncanny pout to show the world that it was the wrong moment to announce love in a scene played opposite Feininger.

Husbands & Lovers is an enjoyable production which reminds us of many things in regards to love -especially that the idea of tears – being the opposite of laughter – is truly a masculine invention, because to a woman the opposite of laughter is not tears, but to simply not laugh. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.

Featured Picture: Lynn Steinmetz and Laura Giannarelli in ‘Husbands & Lovers.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Husbands & Lovers plays through March 18, 2012 at the Washington Stage Guild’s Undercroft Theatre, in Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church -900 Massachusetts Avenue, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 582-0050, or purchase them online.




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