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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
(c) 1993, 2001 Star Tribune: Newspaper of
the Twin Cities Record