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“Triumph of Love” Review

August 8, 1993

Guthrie stages a marvelous, charming `The Triumph of Love'
Author: Mike Steele; Staff Writer

Page: 07B

Article Text: For all its fairy-tale charms, lustful laughter and sylvan beauties, Marivaux's "The Triumph of Love" is also a play of psychological insight and

penetrating observation into the darker, nastier and altogether nuttier aspects of the human libido. The Guthrie Theater's marvelous new production, directed by Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Dominique Serrand in his Guthrie debut, boldly manages to sweep in the lighter, livelier side of things without gliding over the cruelties and absurdities that are the other side of love's self-absorption. The play's setting is reminiscent of those closed worlds of Shakespeare's magic forests, a hermetic world working under its own rules and its own invented logic. The Princess, the play's protagonist, is a single-minded, driven version of Viola or Rosalind. Dimas, who conjurs up the setting and spins the tale we see, is a gleeful version of Prospero.

The world in this case is the garden of the hermetic, ascetic philosopher Hermocrates, who has created a place devoid of love, lust or any passion at all and driven solely by reason. Already, however, in the lush, vibrantly colored settings (by David and Wendy Coggins), featuring a gorgeously painted backdrop and a stage done in grass, dotted with pools and surrounded by hedges, we have the seeds of conflict - a milieu solely of the mind planted in an ambience given over solely to the senses.
Into this world storms the Princess, who must get married or lose her kingdom. Her amorous target is Agis, a young lad who would have been prince if his father hadn't been usurped and who has been brought up by Hermocrates and his equally repressed, virginal sister Leontine.

To woo him, the Princess must be near him, which means donning male clothes and begging Hermocrates to take her as a student. When he shows reluctance to do so, she woos him as a woman, then woos Leontine as a man. She becomes, in other words, whatever the object of her wooing desires. (In a cheeky bit of design, costumer Sonya Berlovitz has all the men in the tale become increasingly feminized as the play proceeds, with bits of flounce added to their costumes here and there until, at the height of their male passions, they are virtually in full drag.)

In this repressed world, all are innocents to a degree. The most innocent are Aglaia (the effervescent Miriam Laube) and Azor (the almost primitively panting Enrico Colantoni). They have been raised by the philosopher and his sister blindfolded to protect their senses, and now, at age 18, are turned loose without blindfolds to discover the ways of the world. Since the first thing each sees is the other, you can imagine the giddiness that ensues.

Yet everyone in this sex-stifled world is in his or her own way as naive as this duo of innocents. The worldly Princess has no problem exercising power over all of them, cutting through their repressions, exposing their inner desires and turning their passions loose like waterfalls.

She does win her man, as we knew she would. What we hadn't expected, perhaps, is the residual cruelty and the shattered feelings she leaves in her wake to do so. Serrand's production doesn't hide from those - pain runs deep - yet it by no means wallows in the bleakness.

Marivaux understood the yin and yang of love. Desire makes one as dopey as it makes one beautiful. What we desire most we also fear most. The most remarkable minds go blind in the face of amour.
Serrand's refined, sweeping production captures the full range of this world and deals with it at its most elemental. The servants Harlequin (Christopher Bayes) and Corinne (Julie Briskman Hall) are like Shakespeare's no-nonsense rustics, and their erotic tussle at the beginning of act two is alone worth the price of admission for its sheer lustful exuberance.

To watch the oh-so-even-tempered Hermocrates (beautifully underplayed by Stephen Yoakam) and the authoritatively reasonable Leontine (made almost pitiable by Isabell Monk) unwind and expose themselves is both hilarious and moving as they slowly rip away their intellectual masks - physical ones too, as they tear off their dark sunglasses and put on clear ones in the face of desire - and make themselves vulnerable to passion.

And as the Princess, Jacqueline Kim gives her finest performance since coming here, one driven by sincerity and need. She comes into this loveless world lovelessly, looking to find a husband for political rather than emotional reasons, yet ends up the most ardent and persuasive of suitors as she hauls in the befuddled but desirous Agis (played on the dim side by Reg Rogers).

This is a wonderful study of people awakening to their feelings, allowing the pains and pleasures of passion to become part of the vitality of human life. It's good to see a Guthrie production that lets loose these passions so freely and feels so deeply yet still manages to charm totally.

Copyright (c) 1993, 2001 Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities Record Number: 618532

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