Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Theater review: Triumph of Love hilariously explores gender roles and relationships of all types
Love is all you need.
ADDISON “When it comes to matters of love, are we not all weak? But then, that’s our destiny.” So says Hermocrates to wrap up the moral of Triumph of Love. The play by Pierre Marivaux is presented by MBS Productions in Addison using new World Premiere Translation/adaptation by Mark-Brian Sonna.
Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux was a French dramatist in the early 1700s. Considered one of the most important French authors, he came out of Commedia dell’Arte to create a new style of theater. You might easily compare Marivaux’s Triumph of Love with Shakespeare comedies such as As You Like It. Both plays center on stories of gender-switching heroines dressing as young men in order to snare a young man, only to be mistakenly snared by others, men and women alike. Marivaux wrote his play in 1732 as a Greek comedy about characters in Sparta.
This new version by Sonna is transplanted to the Principality of Andorra on the border between Spain and France and the time period is reset to 1932.
Leonide, the young ruler of Andorra, dresses as a man, named Phocion, to get close to her love interest, Agis. He’s the rightful ruler of Andorra but his family was deposed by Leonide’s family years before. In the process she must seduce both Agis’ elder patrons, Hermocrates and his sister. The play tells the story of this triangle of confusion.
Charles Ballinger directed Sonna’s Triumph of Love with allegiance to Marivaux’s Theatre style, which includes over-the-top acting, frequent asides to an audience, and tongue-in-cheek comedic melodrama. Actors reveal their thoughts and plans before they act them out, so the audience knows what will happen and then watches it unfold. This style is foreign to most modern American productions which usually strive for realistic characters. There’s also no intent to teach or enlighten. For Marivaux, and I think for Sonna, it’s just meant to bring a smile to the audience. Triumph of Love does that in spades.
The Stone Cottage is a small playing space, which makes set creation pretty basic. A patio table, garden bench, small fountain and the appearance of plants turned the space into the “Country Garden Estate of Hermocrates.” Alejandro de la Costa created bright garden colors with spots of flowers everywhere and Richard S. Blake lit the area with a broad wash of bright outside lighting.
Sonna not only translated the play but also designed costumes colored in soft pastels, rich in a 1930s way, and fit to the social status of each character.
Leonide and her servant Corine wore black chauffer suits, and, even with hats and mustachios, were easily recognizable as girls dressing as men. But that was part of the comedy. The audience was in on it from the start.
Sonna designed sound tracks for pre-show and two short intermissions using recordings of 1930s music in Catalan, Spanish, and French, the languages of Andorra. Along with little-known Spanish and French songs, these included recordings of Edith Piaf, Carmen, and a couple other familiar pieces. This music very effectively set an atmosphere for Andorra in the '30s.
Klarice P. McCarron played the lead role of Leonide, a.k.a. Phocion, a.k.a. Aspasia. She nuanced these roles, making each a bit different in demeanor, voice and look, but was sappy enough to make it funny as we watched her switch between roles for different people, often in the same scene, and seduce her targets with cheesy zeal.
Sonna played Hermocrates and Nancy Lamb played his sister Leontine. They played the duped cynics who discover their hidden loneliness makes them do silly things for love. The fun was watching them squirm as they are seduced, transform into giddy lovers, and then falter when reality sets in. Agis was played by Jason Kyle Harris. He lives in a state of perpetual confusion exacerbated by the seductions of Leonide. Harris showed his confusion and mirrored Leonide’s ardor like a puppy until the very end when all truths were revealed.
Corine, Leonide’s servant also disguised as a male chauffer, helps Leonide execute her plan. Played by Charli Armstrong, she walked the unlikely line between Corine’s lower state as a servant while also being complicit in the conspiracy, thus elevating her status. Hermocrates’ servant and gardener also elevate their roles by joining Leonide’s conspiracy. Harlequin, played by Joel Frapart, and Dimas, played by David Swanner, slipped across the boundaries between their servant status and knowing things their masters don’t know. But they also threaten Leonide, ruler of their country, with blackmail. Both actors had very funny outbursts in scenes mimicking other characters and demanding action from their masters. Most of the comedy in this play came from constant role-blurring.
Triumph of Love was a story of confusion brought about by the lies characters told themselves. It explored the varieties of love, cross-gender, self-love, gay love, and love with strangers, as well as social status conventions. But it did so in a light, non-judgmental way. It is possible the real theme is that “the language of love is confusion.” Triumph of Love at MBS Productions certainly had that, and it was quite humorous.
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