"The most adorable woman alive!" the enraptured Dorante (Jerome Kircher) cries to Silvia (Caroline Proust).
Well, I don't know. Everyone in the production of "The Game of Love and Chance," at the Kennedy Center for the next two nights, is pretty adorable. This is an exquisite comedy exquisitely done. If it had music, Pierre Carlet de Camblain de Marivaux's 18th-century play (performed in French with surtitles) would be a Mozart opera. It almost is, anyway.
To test the man who would woo her, Silvia has traded places with her maid, Lisette (Anne Caillere). Unbeknown to her, Dorante, Silvia's fiance in the arranged marriage, has had the same idea and arrives disguised as his valet, Arlequin (David Gouhier). Meanwhile, Silvia's father, Orgon (Guy Parigot), and her brother Mario (Eric Frey), who are in on both schemes, watch with amusement and, when things get stuck, prod them back into action.
Jean-Pierre Vincent's production has the piercing sweetness of struck crystal, and suggests the shattering possibilities of crystal, too. The set is like a box in which the actors--toys of fate--are placed. A scattering of small, elegant chairs provides the furnishings, and the lighting has a shimmering delicacy. This is a world of shadows (sometimes too many for an American audience used to seeing actors lit clearly at all times), though edged with brittleness.
Because they were contemporaries, Marivaux is always compared to Moliere. He strikes audiences today as less full-blooded, more ironic and modern. Moliere was an elegant pugilist, the Mohammad Ali of stage comedy. Marivaux flicks and wounds.
The actors are so deft and graceful that it's a pleasure just to watch them do small things, like sit or remove a coat. This is stylized acting, but so subtle that you hardly notice--you just realize that what you're watching is beautiful as well as funny.
When we first see Silvia, she is dressed in flouncy white, throwing herself miserably around the stage like a swan having a hissy fit. Proust shows us that this girl rather enjoys dramatizing her feelings, yet makes us like her anyway. It's clear she has father and brother wrapped around her little finger, and that Dorante will join them. Despite the fun, the future of this romance strikes us as, well, chancy.
Caillere and Gouhier are inspired clowns (when particularly dazzled, he goes into a crouch, as if he were about to sprint across the room to her). Parigot's Orgon is droll and likable, and Frey gives Mario odd, ambiguous shadings that are disconcertingly, but somehow appropriately, sinister.
As Dorante, Kircher is stoic yet high-strung in a way only a French actor could be. Stubborn, honorable and sane, Dorante nonetheless finds himself declaring at various moments, "I am suffering so much." Kircher is a deadpan comedian, self-satirizing and ironic, with a side specialty in physical comedy. In face and spirit, he calls to mind the great actor Jean-Louis Barrault.
"The Game of Love and Chance" is here for only two more nights. The Kennedy Center cannot possibly make a profit bringing in productions like this one and "A Hotel Room in the Town of NN"--probably it loses money. Washington audiences are truly fortunate to receive such gifts.
The Game of Love and Chance by Pierre Carlet de Camblain de Marivaux, translated by Michael Sadler. A Theatre des Amandiers production, directed by Jean-Pierre Vincent. Artistic collaboration, Bernard Chartreux; set, Jean-Paul Chambas; costumes, Patrice Cauchetier; lights; Alain Poisson; sound, Philippe Cachia. At the Kennedy Center through July 1. Call 202-467-4600.