THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE
When was the last time an 18th century French comedy was produced, in English, in Vancouver? Hmm… could it be—never? I can’t remember one in the 35 years I’ve been here. So when Blackbird Theatre decided to do Pierre Marivaux’s 1732 Triumph of Love, it was attempting something a lot more adventurous that just following its mandate of producing the classics.
Director Johnna Wright sets her production, which takes place entirely in the garden of the philosopher Hermocrate (Simon Webb), in the 1930s. The time frame is indicated via Karyn McCallum’s handsome, winsome costumes, and through a heavy overlay of Cole Porter tunes, played not just for background or to cover scene changes, but in delightful set pieces during which the action stops and characters dance, singly or in couples.
The action is driven by Princess Leonide (Jennifer Lines), who arrives with her servant Corine (Luisa Jojic), both disguised as young men. The princess is in love with young Agis (Daniel Arnold), the philosopher’s student and ward. But she can’t approach him directly because his father was deprived of his throne by the princess’ ancestors, so she rules where he, by rights, should. Anyway, we get through all this exposition quickly enough.
The gag is that Leonide makes everyone in the household fall in love with her/him. Dashing and handsome in a Clark Gable moustache, Leonide in her male role, Phocion, easily seduces Hermocrates’ sister Leontyne (Marie Stillin in a lovely comic turn), and Agis homoerotically falls for him, too. Hermocrates sees through the disguise, but not even his philosophy can help him resist the lovely princess.
Lee Taylor as Hermocrates’ old gardener and very funny triple-Jessie nominee Andrew McNee as another knowing servant, along with Jojic’s Corine (disguised as Hermidas), weave themselves among the would-be lovers, all of them adding to the wonderful comic chaos—the verbal, intellectual, and emotional agonies of the love-struck.
Lines carries much of the show and once again shows herself to be the premiere mistress of romantic comedy in our town. But there’s not a weak performance in the bunch. Wright directs with a fine sense of pace and variety. Only rarely was I aware that the entire play consists of nothing but talk.
Blackbird does it again. The Triumph of Love is—yep—a triumph.