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The Little Triumph That Couldn't

MST can't quite mind its comedy of manners

If you had a great-sounding name like Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, it would behoove you -- indeed, you'd almost seem destined -- to pen something worthwhile. This important 18th-century French writer of sophisticated romantic comedies did: La Vie de Marianne, among others. He was not triumphant, however, with The Triumph of Love, if Stephen Wadsworth's 1992 translation/adaptation is any indication. And Main Street Theater's lackluster production certainly doesn't present any evidence to the contrary.

An uninspired romp of love, longing, wooing, debate and disguise, the play concerns beautiful Princess Leonide's intricate efforts to court handsome Prince Agis and restore him to the throne that her ancestors usurped. The first act alone has about 50 different plot twists, as Leonide dons a male disguise to gain entry to Agis' restricted household, which is run by his stout guardians, the philosopher-rationalist Hermocrate and his spinster sister Leontine. The princess' principal means of maneuvering is to profess secret love for the two old fogeys -- feats she undertakes as male or female, depending on the circumstances; this could be somewhat amusing, if there weren't two more methodical, drudging acts to follow before everything ends up happily ever after. Full of false flattery and double talk, Leonide's wheeling-and-dealing antics aren't ingenious enough to warrant the time they take. They simply go on too long.

Main Street Theater director Rebecca Greene Udden makes the play seem even longer by not quickening the pace with Leonide's successive encounters. Delirium, exhaustion, desperation, something

ust pervade the atmosphere for the action to build interest, but here nothing palpable is at stake. This is particularly a shame because her blocking -- histrionic bows, suggestive gestures, duel stances -- fits classical French comedy of manners quite well.

Melody Green doesn't fit Leonide at all. Being suave, beguiling and persuasive is not the same as merely putting on airs. Beaming too much, she comes off as an idealistic college senior, not as a resourceful, enchanting young lover determined to pursue what her heart knows is right. Instead of being seductive, she teeters on the brink of condescension. Though his deportment is more friar than philosopher, Ted Pfister has better success as Hermocrate, a solitary man of reason whose earnestness does him little good in a battle of wiles with Leonide. The standout is Rodney Walsworth's Harlequin; he prances when saying, "Discretion is the better part of a valet" and fakes modesty when contemplating, "I would think to look at me is to love me." But at times his witty idiot suffers from a monotone delivery. Nathalie Cunningham's Corine and Michelle Britton's Leontine are operational, if one-dimensional. While Dennis Turney's Agis is bland, Kit Fordyce chews the scenery as a gardener, wheezing, gasping, quivering, shivering, spouting, spewing.

The technical elements are also a mixed bag. While Lucia Palacios' costumes, all plush velvet and flowing ruffles, are terrifically exploited, Rene Michael Wells' lighting is virtually nonexistent. Maurice Tuttle's set says it all: faux-granite park benches in a circle, overlooking a country retreat's gray columned walls and imposing Romanesque double doors, surroundings too circumscribed to let the imagination run free and easy.

The Triumph of Love runs through May 15 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 524-6706.1,001

 
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