When it comes to matters of the heart, in the absence of information there's a natural tendency to fill the vacuum with our greatest fears and insecurities.
Even so, the flamboyant Actor protagonist in Ferenc Molnár's "The Guardsman" at A Noise Within takes this foible several side-splitting steps further, applying all his theatrical skills to actually become the embodiment of his worst nightmare: a rival suitor for the affections of his Actress wife.
Hilarity, warmth and wry wisdom abound in Michael Michetti's perfectly staged revival of Molnár's long-neglected comic gem about the perpetual romantic gulf between the sexes.
Freddy Douglas and Elyse Mirto bring appealing chemistry and impeccable timing to the roles of the illustrious stage couple whose storybook marriage is starting to fray after only six months.
Knowing his wife's previous amorous track record and afraid she'll soon seek passion elsewhere, the Actor proactively disguises himself as what he imagines to be her ideal lover — a dashing aristocratic soldier — in order to test her loyalty.
Even as he loves her badly and obsessively, Douglas' Actor is bound by his own narcissism. In the midst of wooing the Actress with the flashy uniform and amusingly stilted accent of his Guardsman alter ego, he can't resist praising the genius of her "absent" husband.
As he admits to his confidante (a superb Robertson Dean), the Actor is as enamored with the challenge of his performance as he is with its object.
Suffice it to say that Mirto's Actress holds all the emotional cards, and the theatrical dexterity with which she plays them is sheer delight to behold. Amid Molnár's wittily blurred boundaries between feeling and performance, the couple keep everyone guessing just who's conning whom. Prominent among the play's many quirky charms is Wendy Worthington's deft turn as the Actress' former dresser who's been promoted to official Mother status.
Toss in a seamless supporting ensemble and first-rate production values, and you couldn't ask for a finer example of how captivating and downright fun live theater can be.
"The Guardsman," A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Runs in repertory, check website for dates and times. Ends Nov. 30. $39-$54. (626) 356-3100 ext. 1. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.