Thursday 8 June 2017

The Game of Love and Chance = fun nonsense
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night 
& those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Is it possible for two people to fall in love in spite of the fact they purposely set out to deceive & manipulate one another from the get-go? This is the conceit of Pierre de Marivaux's 1730 commedia dell'arte bit of flimflam being rekindled by the United Players. PdM's style became known as maurivaudage -- one that "signifies a flirtatious bantering tone". Comedy of manners is a related term : style-&-panache triumph over substance.  

With dad Orgon's permission, the about-to-be betrothed Sylvia switches character with her feisty servant Lisette in order to better observe her dad's choice of hubby for her, Dorante, in action. Dad knows -- but she doesn't -- that he has done the same, for the same reason, with his harlequinesque manservant Arlequino. Dorante is introduced as Arlequino's valet "Bourgignon". So it's snobs trying to act like servants and servants having to fake being their sophisticated mistresses & masters.

Arlequino (Matt Loop) & Rebecca Husain (Lisette) clearly delight in the task of acting like their upper class bosses.  Nancy Caldwell photo.
When Dorante ultimately reveals his noble DNA to Sylvia, thinking she is a servant girl, Sylvia being headstrong decides to test how genuine his love for her actually is. Will he risk his inheritance to marry her thinking she is of lesser pedigree ? What fun teasing the lovelorn Dorante she will have. Not hard to see where all this might lead.

How it's all put together :  This is pre-revolutionary France, not to forget. Fifty years on one imagines Dickens' Madame Defarge knitting up orders for Robespierre to march all of the characters, aristos and servantry both, straight to the Place de la Concorde to part company with their heads. But in 1730 the more innocent funnery is whether characters from underclass downstairs can find true love with someone from upstairs. Will passion triumph over reason, sacre bleu ?

Dad Orgon (Peter Robbins) dishes out no end of his considered fatherly advice to his daughter Sylvia (Elizabeth Willow).  Nancy Caldwell photo.

Identity, class, character, love everlasting, love-on-a-hunch -or- just plain idle foolishness? These are the cultural strains being played out in silly metier by Monsieur Marivaux. Director Brian Parkinson has elected to use Canadian Nicolas Billon's script translation. He notes, "We've set it in Canada in the 1920's, in the milieu of the French, so the French names make sense in that setting, and to a current day audience, the social issues have more relevance coming from the 1920's than they might from the 1730's."  

Production values that shine through :  While immensely popular among the hoi-polloi in France in pre-Revolution times, the philosopher Voltaire for his part was a constant harp and critic of Marivaux. Charles Spencer in The Telegraph a dozen years ago noted : "His plays about love, deception and the mysterious promptings of the human heart are seen as excessively precious, a view shared by Voltaire, who famously lampooned the Gallic gab of marivaudage as the art of 'weighing flies' eggs on scales made from a spider's web'." Arch and a bit pretentious in its reach, Voltaire's mixed metaphor is nevertheless a sentiment many might share today.

Wiki tells us the original script was a 3-act romantic comedy. Yipes. Rightly, brightly and wisely so, M. Billon in his translation has chopped probably 60% of the original and condensed the catchy foolishness to some 80 minutes in one act (whose opening exposition and final resolution could, however, still benefit from a bit of further diet and shaping). 

All that said, there is charm and tease and titillation in the show that are helped and enhanced by designer Sandy Margaret's stylish ersatz Mount Royal apartment replete with silver gramophone, granite floors bordered with polished oak effects plus period settees, armchairs and fashionable light fixtures. Costuming by Linda Begg fit the times nicely -- Arlequino's argyle particularly a choice nod to the harlequin history in theatre at play here.

Dorante (Callum Gunn) thinks Arlequino (Matt Loop) might be having just a bit too much fun playing aristocrat.   Nancy Caldwell photo.
Acting pin-spots :  In the original and earlier English translations, the role of Lisette (Rebecca Husain) is given immense prominence. In the Billon script, she has less air-time than Sylvia (Elizabeth Willow), but her Julia Louise Dreyfuss take-off opposite the prat-falling slapsticky Arlequino (Matt Loop) provided the show's most risible and enjoyable moments. As Dorante / Bourgignon, Callum Gunn brings into play some of the crispest, freshest dictional enunciation heard on local boards this side of Bard chief Christopher Gaze. 

Who gonna like : For a Colorado production in the Fall of '16, a certain critic Bill Wheeler noted : "The Game of Love is a belly laugher timed at 2.5 hours, including two (2) intermissions. It takes that long partly because of all the pauses required to let the laughter die down." Be thankful this isn't that

The dramatic irony / discrepancy-of-awareness schtick -- the audience & certain characters know all along the deceipts being played out that most of the players aren't aware of -- is one that is fun but not gripping or sustaining over the long haul. 

Still and all, these various reservations aside, the United Players production offers up some physical comedy & dialoguic double entendre that over the course of its one act will bring forth belly laughs and moments of glee -- even if, like Shakespeare's Shrew, the social / gender / class milieux of the script is hopelessly out-of-time. Worth a go for sure for an evening's divertissement from the usual inner-&-outer weather -plus- the bonus of a drive home in the dusky daylight of late June.

Particulars :  Produced by United Players of Vancouver.  At the Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street, Vancouver.  Until June 25. Tickets & schedule information 604.224.8007 x.2  CLICK HERE  for on-line tix.  Run-time two hours including intermission. 

Production team :  Director Brian Parkinson.  UPV Artistic Director Andree Karas.  Assistant Director Barbara Ellison.  Set Designer Sandy Margaret.  Lighting Designer Darryl Strahan.  Technical Director Michael Methot.  Costume Designer / Properties Designer Linda Begg.  Sound Designer Sean Anthony.  Stage Manager Jessica Hildebrand.  Production Manager John Harris.

Performers : Simon Garez (Mario).  Callum Gunn (Dorante).  Rebecca Husain (Lisette).  Matt Loop (Arlequino).  Peter Robbins (Orgon).  Elizabeth Willow (Sylvia). 


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