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Critic: Joan Crespi. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 16,

2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Triumph of Love’

Triumph of Love," at the intimate Off-Broadstreet

Theater through March 11, is billed as a slightly bawdy musical romp.

A brief grabbing of breasts, a woman’s head near a man’s clad

genitals,

and the expression "stopus interruptus," is about all the

overt sex you will get. Most of the play is quite decorous, with

echoes

from Shakespeare of women posing as men, but here the gender switching

is ratcheted up.

Based on "The Triumph of Love" by Pierre Marivaux and updated,

with vernacular language supplied, the musical has book by James

Magruder,

music by Jeffrey Stock, and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. This

"Triumph"

played briefly on Broadway in winter of 1997-’98, when Betty Buckley

was nominated for a Tony for best actress in a musical.

Writing decades after Moliere but before the French revolution,

Marivaux’s

characters are of two distinct social classes, aristocrats and

servants,

and they dress accordingly. There’s the clever servant from Roman

plays, here named Corine. (In Moliere’s "Tartuffe," she’s

Dorine.) Pamela Linkin plays her with spunk, verve, and confidence.

Aiding her in providing comic relief are Bernard Broyles as a witty,

nimble Harlequin, and Tom Orr as Dimas, the uninspired gardener

skilled

in, yes, organic gardening.

In this comedy (it ends in a wedding-to-be), most comic scenes are

provided by the servants, including the outstanding production number,

"Henchmen are Forgotten." The aristocratic characters take

themselves more seriously. It is also a satire on the exclusive use

of reason and the mind, here called "philosophy," as well

as a satire of class structure ("Never cross class lines"

is the first lesson of servant school, says Corine, the saucy

maidservant.)

The story is set in a formal French garden — the amateurishly

painted trees at the center of the set detract from this — in

a secluded corner of 18th-century Greece, in Sparta, which is to be

ruled only by the mind. Agis, the rightful king of Sparta, has been

kept in seclusion by his aunt and uncle, the brother and sister

philosophers,

Hesione (Sharon Alexander) and Hermocrates (Richard Chibbaro), raised

for the day, today, when he must kill the one who has usurped the

throne, Princess Leonide (Suzanne Houston). Her parents killed his

parents.

As she runs onstage, Leonide, resolute yet delicate

looking, prettily costumed in pink, is followed by her servant,

Corine.

Leonide, already love-struck after having seen Agis, has given up

everything (both crown and kingdom) to pursue her true love. Does

John Zimmerman as a plump, stolid Agis have the face that sunk

Princess

Leonide? Yet it’s her singular quest that propels this play. To gain

entrance into the household (and make Agis love her), Leonide changes

into men’s clothing (so does Corine) and she becomes Phocion (male)

to Hesione and Agis. She agrees to become Agis’ friend, even to kill

Leonide. Her deception as a man is eventually discovered by

Hemocrates,

who tells no one. Later she’s Cecile (female) with a Southern accent

to Agis. Interlaced are scenes where Corine, now Troy (male), then

female (as her deception is also discovered) wins the valet, then

the gardener: she’s sought a grower of organic fruits and vegetables.

(Swallow that.)

If all of this gender switching — at one point Leonide shows up

in a man’s knickers and a woman’s fitted pink top — seems

confusing,

it is. Tightening the snare, Leonide gives Hesione and Hemocrates

each a cameo portrait and the two philosophers find themselves in

love with her (or him). Agis also loves her — now as Cecile.

Alone,

Leonide laments her multiple, entangling deceptions, done for love.

The story is sung and so seems less silly and contrived. While none

of the voices is outstanding, Sharon Alexander’s is notable, and all

are adequate. Actors Alexander and Chibbaro are Off-Broadstreet

veterans,

each having appeared in 23 productions. The four-piece orchestra is

directed by Ed McCall.

Robert Thick directed this production that is more ambitious than

the dessert theater’s fare, and the ensemble is not altogether up

to the task. Patricia Hibbert chose the beautiful costumes, one of

the show’s best features: rich cloth, ornately decorated, for the

aristocratic characters, rustic for the commoners.

Leonide’s presence has changed everyone. All three aristocrats are

in love with her/him, while Corine struts off with Harlequin and Dimas

to live in a menage-a-trois. Love has triumphed, vanquishing

intellect or philosophy alone. Leonide confesses her true identity.

Agis and Leonide resolve to marry. Leonide gladly crowns Agis king

of Sparta. (She’ll be his queen.)

The difficult play does end movingly as affairs of the heart triumph

over all the characters. Although Hesione and Hermocrates — both

converts to love — are disappointed in the marriage plans,

strangely,

they are not embittered at Leonide’s deceptions: Hesione quips:

"Maybe

we’ll meet someone at the wedding."

— Joan Crespi

Triumph of Love, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Fridays to Sundays, to March

11. $20.50 and $22.


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