Triumph of Love
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
April 25, 2008
Triumph of Love is a very tricky musical. An adaptation of Marivaux's 1732 play, it shifts from high wit to low humor in the blink of an eye, and the score poses significant challenges for any troupe of performers. A cast of seven needs to drive a substantial plot forward at all times, preferably without breaking a sweat. The piece is an intricate construct that requires exactitude and specificity to pay off. For a small company like APAC to take the piece on is in itself a leap of faith; unfortunately, at the first performance, the results were decidedly mixed.
The story, for those not familiar: Princess Leonide of Sparta has traveled with her maid, Corine, to the private gardens of a stern philosopher and his spinster sister because their nephew has captured the princess's heart at first glance. But Leonide is no helpless, lovesick damsel; she shows up bound and determined to get her man. She and her maid dress as men and call themselves Phocion and Troy to infiltrate the garden. Romantic complications ensue and multiply—everyone falls in love with Leonide/Phocion/Cecile (the last being yet another guise the princess adopts)—particularly as Troy tries to fend off two of the philosophers' servants. And to make matters worse, Leonide learns that Agis, her beloved, is the true Prince of Sparta—her lifelong reign has been based on a fundamental injustice. There's a peculiarly savage kind of fun to be had here, with Leonide offering a rather unscrupulous and aggressive heroine; yes, she learns her lesson, but in the process tramples more than her share of hearts, not least Agis's.
What's missing at APAC is a sense of joy, the delight in performing a comedy. The entire cast sings very well—Jeffrey Stock's music is certainly not easy, and their voices all rise to the occasion. But the flip side is that their characters feel stuck in first gear. Abby Baum is the hard-working Leonide; as stated, she has a truly terrific singing voice, and she offers a well-thought-out approach, but has yet to find her way into the heart of a woman who has fallen rather recklessly in love. Tripp Pettigrew's Agis begins unsteadily, but finds confidence in the second act, and he too sings like a dream. The philosopher siblings fare less well. Richard Rice Alan seems uncomfortable from the first, whereas his character is supposed to be a fearsome autocrat, and Erika Amato strikes a consistent, unvarying tone of aloof remoteness, even when she sings how desperately she is in love with Phocion. The three servant characters are required to maintain a lightness of tone and brightness of pace; Ashley Speigel (Corine/Troy) and Justin Birdsong (Dimas) are occasionally successful, while Philip Deyesso's Harlequin works much harder for much less result. As a whole, the company has yet to take the show by the horns.
Michael P. Kramer's two-level set is attractive, Erik J. Michael's lighting is modest but sufficient, and the costumes by Adam Coffia are the most effective of the design elements. Musical director Jeffrey Campos seems to have come up against some real obstacles here; the pit played very spottily at the opening. More to the point, he has underdirected the cast, as their elocution was consistently mushy (a real crime against Susan Birkenhead's often sublime lyrics). Brian Swasey's direction is functional, but uninspired. Actors often run up a staircase, backs to the audience, while singing intricate lyrics; scenes feel rushed through in an effort to maintain pace; the piece still feels less gossamer light than heavy lifting. Without question the musical is certainly imperfect (some of the bawdy humor is simply unfunny, and the transitions between styles can be jarring). But one hopes that with time, the APAC production will find its footing and its fleetness.