MBS Productions made a clever choice in selecting French playwright's Pierre Marivaux's Triumph of Love for a February run. Like a Valentine's Day morsel, it's a sweet and saucy trifle, with a florid delivery. But it would be nice if the packaging were a bit more elegant.
The Stone Cottage theater is an intimate space with virtually no distance between audience and actors. In this production, overly bright lighting does little to enhance the mood and the set, a garden outside an aristocratic home, is comprised mostly of lattice arches bedecked with paper flowers. Fortunately, as the play progresses some real flowers and gardening tools are introduced, adding some much needed organic elements and activity. Costumes are also simple, with two of the primary characters attired in the same chauffeur uniforms throughout.
The plot of Triumph of Love is complicated; like many comedies of mistaken identity, credibility was clearly not a concern for Marivaux. In short, Princess Leonide (Klarice P. McCarron) dresses up as a man to sneak into the home of Agis (Jason Kyle Harris), the man she loves who is also rightful heir to her throne. Before love can conquer all, the princess must intrigue Agis as a man, seduce him as a woman and ensnare both his uncle and aunt to keep them from meddling in her plan. Her servant, along with Hermocrates' gardener and manservant, assist Leonide in order to earn a prize of their own: a large sum of money.
One great asset of Marivaux's script is the way it enables Phocion (Princess Leonide's male cover) to tailor his flattery to each character he woos. With Agis's middle-aged aunt Leontine, Phocion plays on her desire for youth and beauty. And when he tackles the philosopher Hermocrates, he capitalizes on the man's exaggerated belief in his intellectual abilities and theories about love.
As directed by Charles Ballinger and translated by Mark-Brian Sonna, language and wordplay are paramount here and the cast does an excellent job handling them. According to the Sonna's notes, he changed the setting from the original Ancient Greece to the principality of Andorra. The tiny country straddles both Spain and France, so Sonna has the aristocrats use French phrases while the servants employ Spanish accents and slang. This device helps to make the class distinctions a bit clearer to the audience.
Sonna, as the crusty philosopher who has no use for love, and Harris as love interest Agis, handle their lengthy dialogue scenes with especial aplomb. Sonna's foppish Hermocrates seems genuinely confused by all of the affection he's being shown, almost reeling around the stage in his confusion. Yet his enormous ego allows him to believe that this young girl has fallen for him hard. Harris has some funny moments as he tries to untangle why he is so drawn to the "young man" who has suddenly appeared in his garden.
McCarron, who appears in every scene and changes not only character but gender in mid-sentence, does a superb job of moving between a gruff and manly demeanor to the voice and stance of an educated young lady. In one particularly impressive scene she pulls a princess moment on the two servants, commanding them in an imperious tone to stop trying to get more money from her or risk losing their heads.
Leontine (Nancy Lamb) has a bit less to do than the other lead characters but makes the most of certain moments, including her obvious delight in discovering a portrait Fochion has painted of her, portraying her as a younger and more comely version of herself. She stares reverently at the tiny image, as if to convince herself that that girl in the picture still exists.
There are a few bits of cleverly choreographed movement, which are well executed. A greater commitment to the physical comedy potential of the play would have added even more interest. Overall though, after an exposition-heavy start, this engaging play moves along at a snappy pace. While it might not be an out-and-out triumph, it is a pleasant way to spend a few hours at the theater in February.