Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Triumph of Love"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey

SpeakEasy Triumphs with Love

by Beverly Creasey

SpeakEasy Stage Company has done it again, bringing us the naughty little musical which was the talk of New York last season. It’s nice to know that if you missed something you were dying to see in New York, chances are SpeakEasy will do it as soon as the rights become available.

“Triumph of Love" is based on an 18th Century play by Marivaux, author of the charming “Game of Love and Chance” produced last year at the Huntington. The authors of the musical wisely chose to play against Marivaux’ reputation for subtlety so, although the play looks and feels ever so classical, it’s anything but in its musical incarnation. Double entendre rules the day. Sassy dialogue (book by James Magruder) happily undermines the seriousness of this tale of a princess who risks everything for love.

Watching it unfold, I couldn’t help thinking of the similarities to Handel’s “Xerxes” (from the same time): a princess disguised as a man, a Greek setting, identical arias sung by different characters for different meaning, even a “Tree” song. And although this time the story is played for laughs, the SpeakEasy presentation affords us one exquisite searingly serious moment, when a middle-aged, cloistered aunt falls in love with the young man who isn’t a man at all. Of course we know what she doesn’t, so our hearts go out to her when her “Serenity” is stolen. The triumph in the production is Kerry Dowling’s oh so vulnerable, and just a little foolish aunt. And that moment is positively operatic.

Valerie Sullivan gives a spirited performance as the plucky princess from the land of “wilful passion” who ventures into the garden of reason to woo her prince. Bless Marivaux for writing such spunky roles for women in the 1700s!

J. T. Turner, too, is wonderfully stuffy as the “ferocious philosopher” who is educating the prince (James Kirby) in the ways of logic. He loses his reason right along with everyone else and falls for the princess.

While all the aristocrats are throwing caution to the winds, the servants are making hay. They even get a scene-stealing trio a la “Friendship..it’s the perfect blendship” called “Henchmen” which brings down the house. Sean Roper is hilarious as a seedy, irreverent gardener; John Porcaro is quirky and funny as a frisky Harlequin (who can sing while doing push-ups yet!) and Deb Martin is sensational as a savvy servant who plays all sides against the middle.

Richard Carey’s delightful direction is absolutely aerobic, with Kirby as the abashed prince climbing and singing at the same time. Marianne Kubik’s sexy choreography is inspired, as is the lunacy. Susan Zeeman Rogers’ set is a geometric maze the color of artificial turf --- a nifty metaphor for the static intellect. Her structures are awash in quotes existential, mathematical, and even Sondheimical. Toni Bratton Elliott’s whimsical costumes are marvellously silly send-ups of period attire, topped by Thomas Soderberg’s voluminous snow-white wigs. Love and laughs don’t “take no for an answer” in this SpeakEasy production --- and what fun you’ll have.

"Triumph of Love" (till 21 February)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)437-7731

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