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|A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Inconstant Lovers (Changes of Heart)
Set designer Narelle Sissons has provided the four doors that are considered de rigueur for an effective farce. Director Michael Unger has used them to good effect to lighten the more serious elements of Stephen Wardsworth's adaptation (and translation) of The Inconstant Lovers. Yet it would be more accurate to describe this as a serio-comedy than a farce. The story of a prince's attraction to a simple country girl rather than the more self-conscious attractions of the ladies of his court symbolizes the promise of a freer society. On the other hand, his arrogant actions to get what he wants also show the persuasiveness of power to weaken principle.
The two hours and twenty minutes it takes to unravel the knotty love story-- of the Prince (Steven Memran) who abducts Silvia (Ali Marsh), the guileless country girl he's fallen in love with in order to persuade her to marry him-- has many moments of humor. Michael Countryman as the servant Trivelin and Judith Hawking as the wily Flaminia prove themselves to be gifted farceurs. By the time Flaminia's game of real life chess draws to its inevitable conclusion, however, the more serious tugs on the hearts and beliefs of the various players prevail. In the end Silvia's lover, Harlequin (James Hallett), more closely resembles Leoncavallo's Canio (in I Pagliacci ) than Moliere's rascally clown, Scapin.
According to the backgrounder on Marivaux included in the program notes, this blend of comic Commedia dell'Arte with drama forged from deeper emotional concerns is very much in the tradition of the French playwright's intent for his work. Unfortunately, the current interpretation is somewhat lopsided since it succeeds more in its serious than its comic aspects. With the exception of Countryman and Hawking, the cast, while otherwise attractive and persuasive, is not as successful in meeting the challenges of the play's dual elements. James Hallett movingly and convincingly shows us Harlequin's wrenching realization of his lost invulnerability, but is less convincing in the scenes in which he begins to fall under the spell of Filumenia. That lady's gradual and insistent incursion into the unshakable constancy of Silvia's and Harlequin's hearts is the evening's one brilliant successful comedy-plus-drama flashpoint. It's a scene in which Silvia seemingly unaware of the transformation she is undergoing is smoothly helped out of her country-girl dress and into the finery (and persona) of a princess. If scenes like this dominated rather than highlighted the play, it would be an unqualified success.
As it is, the more comedy-oriented first half offers far fewer rewards than the second and more serious half. The blame for this rests on the shoulders of both the director and the translator. The farcical elements rely too heavily on props. The exaggerated hoop skirt created by costume designer Murell Horton is great fun but it upstages its wearer (Jennifer Bauer). The circular French settee which could probably win some sort of prize for prop versatility, becomes tiresome by the time Harlequin pulls a bottle of liquor out of the center post. That leaves the translation. For all the brouhaha currently surrounding the translator's talents for transforming an old classic into a new and distinctly now experience, I can't say that I was totally bowled over by the much praised Mr. Wardsworth current efforts on the long neglected and once-again popular Marivaux's behalf. While he's done a fine job of capturing the playwright's often incisive wit, I found many of the modern cliches put in the mouths of the otherwise true-to-the-period characters off-putting. The character of Harlequin has been especially damned with phrases you might overhear on a local bus--i.e. "Can we get a bite to eat?". . ."you were at great pain to butter me up". . ."we can all get the hell out of this place". . ."what a racket!"
Barrington Stage, the brave little theatrical engine that would--and did start up a new theatrical company with a very clear mission (see Barrington Stage Profile )--deserves high praise for the diversity of its offerings. This last in 1997's trio of Main Stage productions is unlikely to match the smash-hit success of its big musical send-off Cabaret or the word-of-mouth plus critical praise garnered by Athol Fugard's Valley Song-- (Cabaret review. . .Valley Song review). Nevertheless, it affords Berkshire theater goers a stylish look at a newly re-discovered playwright.