CU: This seems like an incredibly busy time for you.
EM: Since February of last year, I've done (if you count Never the Sinner twice) eight shows not including two assistant directing gigs, so it's been busy -- which is what you want. My [27th] birthday is coming up on Saturday. Every time I've had a birthday, I've always been working and that's always been my wish. Last year's wish must have been particularly strong because [this year] I have rehearsal in NY in the morning from 10:30 to 4:30 and then I'm back down here for a preview of Triumph of Love that night.CU: How did you get involved in the WSC [Washington Shakespeare Company] production of Triumph?
EM: Chris Henley [Artistic Director of WSC] asked me to do a show back in March of last year, exactly at the same time that Eric Schaeffer [Artistic Director of Signature Theatre] approached me to do Never the Sinner. We talked about some different ideas and Triumph of Love was among them. I was originally going to do it as a showcase as a part of my farewell as Assistant Director at The Shakespeare Theatre [not to be confused with Washington Shakespeare Company], but they decided to go to a five show season which meant that the Lansburgh [home of The Shakespeare Theatre] wasn't really going to be dark ever again.CU: Did you have a particular interest in Marivaux?
So I’d already been thinking about the play and, since the WSC was interested in doing something classical , we settled on Triumph. It has some advantages [for a small theater company without a lot of money like WSC] -- there are only seven characters and it's one set -- the usual over-practical reasons. Sometimes practical reasons are a limitation, but I can't think of a play without thinking about where it's going to be done.
EM: There's been this American interest in the last six years in Marivaux. I wouldn't even call it a Renaissance because there wasn't a "naissance," but there's been this "discovery" of Marivaux, by people tired of doing Moliere and looking for some other options – language plays – that are not Shakespeare, Wilde, Shaw. (I think there are more "re-discoveries" to be made about classical texts, some quite wonderful plays). So I encountered Marivaux during this surge and put it on a shelf thinking, "Maybe, some day…."CU: Why did it appeal to you? (Perhaps I should confess I'm not that fond of it so it makes me wonder.)
Iit was his keen, very finely observed detail about the experience of falling in love, both the negatives and positives. That's his world -- he explores the human condition in the context of romance. I found it very contemporary -- no leap was necessary; the feelings that the characters experience are completely true now as they were in 18th Century France. Those things have not changed.CU: In our interview with James Magruder, he said he's not a storyteller, he's a stylist, and that's why it appealed to him.
[Another] thing about Marivaux that is interesting, when we talk about the modernness of his themes of love, is the modernity of his understanding of psychology. While it's very much a language play, there is actually a great deal of subtext in Marivaux: people say things that they don't mean or to cover up what they really do mean. [Whereas] by and large the truism about someone like Shakespeare is that people mean what they say -- the truth is what you say. (Although that's an oversimplification, too.)
I like the style of the play; the action of the play is in the language. Truthfully, not a lot happens. There's a plot but it is basically set up, developed and almost brought to its conclusion by the end of Act One. And then you've got another two acts of theater to go. That's been part of our challenge on this production -- to find the sort of internal action that keeps the play going. Occasionally, that challenge has been frustrating.
EM: That's interesting. Maybe part of my frustration was that I see myself very much as a storyteller. That's actually the very definition of theater for me -- at every moment to ask what is going on, what is happening, what happens in the moment on the stage that motivates the next person to speak and the next thing to occur. In going through Triumph that way I sometimes found myself chasing the story in circles a little bit until I tapped into the internal life of the characters – their increasing love, their pendular swings of emotions.CU: Did you pick the Stephen Wadsworth translation?
I'm hoping we'll succeed in keeping the audience's attention. It is a comedy -- it's very funny. It is not a tragic exploration of love although there are victims at the end of the play -- people who are devastated. (I think that's a big part of what Magruder was interested in, too). It's not the triumph of Princess Leonide, it's the triumph of love -- love triumphs over Princess Leonide; in fact, in the service of love, she does something that might not politically be the most astute thing in the world to do.
EM: I did. My first experience with the play was actually reading Jim Magruder’s translation of it. Two things guided me to picking the Wadsworth. First, a version of James’ was being done on Broadway as a musical. Also it was done at Center Stage so we thought we should do another version. Second, I find Jim's more of an adaptation and less of a translation. It's very contemporized, very smart and witty and fast-paced; at times it gets mileage out of parodying Marivaux and I was interested in trying to find different things to do. Wadsworth’s is slightly "more poetic" and without making a judgment as to whether more poetic is necessarily better for Marivaux it’s a little more circular in its construction. Wadsworth was feeling very Chekhovian about the play, very Watteau.CU: Did you look at other translations, or at the original?
No. I was tempted to go and read Triumph in the original French and do some of that dramaturgy. At a certain point I decided that I had to trust the translation. I had already committed myself to a [specific] translation of the play and so I in a way had to treat Stephen Wadsworth’s as an English Language play. What is interesting is I think I am doing more of a James Magruder-style production with a different, slightly more poetic, text -- hoping to get both – moments where you can go from this sort of slapstick commedia to something where Leontine says, "Go away, sir, and leave me as I am". When our last defenses against love finally do fall, it's terrifying. It’s the terror of falling in love I connect to in the play, and actually it’s sort of happening in my personal life while I’ve been working on it which has been fascinating. Falling in love simultaneously unlocks your greatest fears and greatest potential.CU: There's something very sinister about what you've done here. I started out saying I didn't really like the play, and now I can't wait to see it.
|Washington Shakespeare Company's production of Marivaux's THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE is playing at the Clark Street Playhouse, 601 South Clark Street, Arlington, Virginia, through February 15. Telephone (703) 418-4808.|