'The Game of Love and Chance' at 1st Stage in McLean Is Deceptively Delightful
Thursday, September 17, 2009
We can see in "The Game of Love and Chance," now at 1st Stage in McLean, that love comes with a price and poses great risk, so we must learn to see the true character behind a lover's facade.
That's a significant notion to take away from a frothy comedy. But when the pleasantry runs from the quill of French Enlightenment playwright Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, there is usually more going on than meets the eye.
When one's eyes are blurred from laughter's tears, all such analysis might just be shimmering optical illusion. No matter. Stephen Wadsworth's 1997 adaptation of Marivaux's classic farce moves the action into the 1930s and with a modern sensibility.
Marivaux ridicules the human heart, even as he explores its emotional core. But the shifts in emphasis are so effortlessly negotiated by this skilled cast that the effect is seamless. What might seem cynical in less gifted hands is endearing in this production.
Marivaux utilized Italian commedia dell' arte theater, with its stock characters and exaggerated comic movements, to examine attitudes of class and social order. Capable director Mark Krikstan pays homage to that tradition, particularly with the work of gifted company regular Lucas Beck and newcomer Nevie Brooks.
Beck and Brooks are Harlequin the valet and Lisette the chambermaid, who unbeknown to each other, have switched roles with their employers, wealthy Dorante (Jacob Yeh) and debutante Silvia (Beth Rothschild). Dorante and Sylvia are heading toward an arranged marriage without having met each other. Each independently thought it might be enlightening to be disguised as a servant to learn about the other.
Sylvia's father, Orgon (Jon Jon Johnson), and brother, Mario (David Winkler), are aware of all sides of the fakery and conspire to make mischief. Before long, the servants, disguised as aristocracy, are falling in love with each other, and their employers, acting as servants, are doing the same.
Beck shakes the play out of early doldrums and pulls the cast together into a tight ensemble. It is fitting, as Harlequin is the leading stock character, a clever idiot. Before Beck's appearance, energy levels and emphasis fluctuate. But he ignites the story by bursting through double doors, clad in a clownish red suit and enveloped in a thick atmosphere of fussy aristocratic affectation.
Brooks proves a worthy stage-mate, parrying Beck's every comedic thrust with her twists of character. Both use physicality deftly, with oddly angular poses and gestures. The movements and exaggerated vocal patterns maintain Marivaux's traditions and make clear, rather than obscuring, the characters' true lowly status. It is a rare combination of subtle messaging within a hearty farce.
Rothschild provides some nice light touches, using smallish gestures, such as improbably pointed feet or fluttering hands, to engender whimsy. Her understated, yet eloquent, work gives us a glimpse into Sylvia's insecurities, adding dimension to the deceptions afoot.
Krikstan's painted-on, one-dimensional appointments to his scenic design give the setting the look of a doll's house, appropriate for the games being played. Symbols of gambling and games are generously applied, including playing cards, chess pieces and a disguised roulette wheel on the faux marble floor -- reminders all that love is a gamble.
"The Game of Love and Chance" continues through Oct. 4 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., McLean. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays. General tickets are $25; $15 for students. For information, call 703-854-1856. For tickets and information, visit http:/