The Triumph of Love
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
August 5, 2010
Call this summer in New York the "season of festivals." Probably the direct result of how expensive it is now to produce a show in our town, the fringe-style performance festival has become all the rage. And from this tap has flowed a steady stream of new work. Luckily however, not everyone is looking to the future (or Shakespeare) for their inspiration. This latter group includes Redd Tale Theatre, whose production of Marivaux's The Triumph of Love stands as a good example of what great acting and direction can do for a good play.
Written in 1737, Marivaux's farce employs the common "girl disguised as a man" routine. This story follows Princess Leonide as she tries to win the heart of her true love, Agis. Unfortunately for her, Agis has been raised by the philosopher Hermocrate and his sister Leontine, who have taught the young man to treat the heart's desire, and women in general, with the greatest of scorn and distrust. Strong-willed and more than crafty, Leonide decides to infiltrate the philosopher's retreat dressed as a man, with the hope of making Hermocrate, his sister, and Agis all fall madly in love with her. As a plan, it doesn't exactly make sense on paper, but as this is an 18th century French farce, we go along with it.
Adding his own touches to Marivaux's story is director Will Le Vasseur, adaptor for this production. Billing it as a "sci-fi twist", Le Vasseur has book-ended the original story with one of his own, involving the plague, black-lit time traveling, and a witch with a penchant for dark clothing. While Marivaux's story will be, perhaps, lacking for modern audiences, it is, at least, clear. Unfortunately, Le Vasseur's attempt at bringing the dusty text forward in time has only further hindered Triumph, adding to it a very confusing story line that never adds to the night's experience. Where he falls short in writing however, Le Vasseur succeeds in directing. Working with a sizable cast in a very small space and on a traditional three-door set, Le Vasseur's blocking keeps the show visually stimulating without ever becoming busy. This play could easily be creaky and lumbering in the wrong hands, but in this production, the flow is, I think, as good as it can be.
Le Vasseur also wins for his casting. With the wrong headshots, Triumph of Love could easily replace warm milk as the perfect sedative. Luckily, that's not the case here. As the princess, Lynn Kenny is a strong axis for the show. The way she switches between playing a man and a woman is effortless, free from the "now I'm a guy" announcing that could drag down this type of role. Most rewarding to the viewer here is the work of Tom Cleary and Virginia Bartholomew, who play the heart-scarred sibling philosophers. Individually, they each play their roles with great humanity, seamlessly moving from stoic to warm to finally being in love. However, it is the few scenes they have together that really make this evening. As Leonide's interest in each of them appears to grow stronger, Hermocrate and Leontine radiate, as they happily toss aside their crumbling philosophy for what they assume is true love at last. If anything, these two actors play the parts too well. In the end, I couldn't help but be upset when, once the ruse is disclosed, the pair is back where they began—alone except for each other.
If you've ever seen a farce from this period, Marivaux's Triumph of Love will hardly win you over with its creativity. Le Vasseur's superfluous attempts to heighten the text for modern audiences also fall short. In spite of this, what makes Redd Tale's production so winning is the way in which Le Vasseur's intuitive, smart direction is enhanced by some very thoughtful acting. Le Triomphe indeed!