nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
September 14, 2012
The Storm Theatre presents a charming New York premiere of Marcel Pagnol’s Marius translated and adapted from French by Zack Rogow.
French Author Marcel Pagnol (1895 – 1974) was a dramatist, novelist and filmmaker of great renown. American Audiences may most likely be familiar with his 1962 novels Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, which were made into popular films in 1986 by Claude Berri. Pagnol was born and raised in the South of France and his writings deal primarily with life and locals of Provence and the colorful characters in the old port of Marseille. Regarded as national treasures Pagnol’s “Marseille trilogy” of plays: Marius, Fanny and César have been performed on stage or made into films continuously since they were written in1929, 1931, 1936 respectively. In fact, the full trilogy is once again being filmed in France this year. The plays follow the lives and loves of a close-knit group of richly unique individuals. Pagnol has named each script after the character that makes the most pivotal life changing decision during the course of the piece.
In the United States a musical version of the Marseille Trilogy called Fanny played on Broadway from November 1954 to December 1956 but this, according to the program, is the first new English translation of Marius in seventy years. Kudos must be given to Peter Dobbins and The Storm Theatre for choosing to produce this comedic gem. It is often written that there are no villains in Pagnol’s work only flawed human beings drawn with deep consideration and understanding.
Marius centers on life in and around the Bar de la Marine on the harbor of the old port of Marseille. The bar is owned by the gruff but lovable César (Ross DeGraw). His son Marius (Benjamin Jones) mans the bar but dreams of the high seas and sailing off to far away places. Young Fanny (Laura Bozzone) sells cockles from a stand in front of the bar and she has loved Marius since they were children. Trouble ensues when Panisse (Gabe Bettito), an older wealthy sail maker and neighbor asks for Fanny’s hand in marriage much to the chagrin of Fanny’s mother Honorine (Diánna Martin) and Marius who is torn between his love for Fanny and his deep seated desire to board one of the ships in the harbor and sail around the world. The bar is also populated by some singular and interesting characters: Escartefigue (Gerard Adimando) a ferryboat Captain, his Stoker (Sawyer Mastrandrea), Piquoiseau (Jose Sanchez) a beggar and slightly “touched” lay about, and Monsieur Brun (David Bodenschatz), a friend of Panisse who is a customs inspector and regular customer at the Bar de le Marine.
Director Dobbins has cleverly staged the play with the audience on either side of the playing space. This, in addition to multiple performance levels and open design, gives the smaller theatre a much more expansive and airy feel. The Set design by Josh Iocovelli serves the script well and along with lighting by Michael Abrams and sound by Kenneth Goodwin go a long way to evoking the sights and sounds of the vieux port of Marseille in the late 1920’s. Courtney Irizarry’s costumes are less successful in that they are unfortunately often lacking in period detail.
Dobbin’s cast, while a bit uneven, has a number of standouts including; Ross DeGraw - wildly amusing as the temperamental blustering César, Gabe Bettito - endearingly sympathetic as the mild mannered albeit stubborn Panisse, Diánna Martin - positively stealing her scenes as the bruised yet driven Honorine, David Bodenschatz - likable as the buttoned up Monsieur Brun, and Anthony Russo - effective in the small role of the Bosun, his urgency leaves a lasting impression.
Marius stands delightfully on its own as a play. Zack Rogow’s translation/adaption does justice to Pagnol’s original French. And Rogow has clearly been able to put his personal stamp on the humor and pathos of the proceedings as well. The dialogue is fresh and funny and there were only a few moments when the language felt too contemporary or too “American”. The production, however, could have benefitted from the services of a dramaturge in order to more fully explore, create and depict the period specific life and location of the play. Missing was some of the passion, roughness and culture of the seaside docks in this small universe of sailors, fishermen, transients and blue-collar characters. The younger actors in particular were sometimes physically and stylistically unconvincing in the world of this play.
But what a wonderful opportunity for New York audiences to be introduced to Pagnol’s affecting and entertaining script. Really, Marius is an appealing play and this production is sure to grow – after seeing the show you may indeed yearn to see what else is in store for Fanny, Marius and their friends and family.