Arts The triumph of froth

Ostensibly the more frivolous of the two, Marivaux trumps Pulitzer winner Nilo Cruz

Theater is a writer’s medium. Production values aside, plays depend for their relevancy, longevity, and import on the craft of the playwright.

The Triumph of Love, written by Pierre Carlet Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux in 1732, is on onstage at Trinity University and is directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo and designed by Steve Gilliam (set) and Jodi Karjala (costumes). It’s a frothy confection of a comedy with an outlandish plot, presented in a chaos of styles that reflect the classical Italian Commedia del’Arte from which the France of Marivaux’s time was emerging, the Romantic movement into which it was settling, and elements of the infamous French farce it prefigured.

Alex Rodriguez, as Dimas, and Larry Frier as Harlequin, starred in the Trinity University production of Marivaux’ The Triumph of Love.

A princess of dubious background falls in love (from afar) with the scion of a rival family, tracks him to the home of a rationalist philosopher who has secluded himself from the world and, most especially, from that Antichrist of the Rational, Love, and determines to win the deposed prince and his adopted family over with her wiles. The permutations of said wiles, the way she plays with gender and convention and hierarchy, overthrowing rationality and strewing lovelorn silliness in her wake, are the comedy that ensues.

The production was strong, though at times frustratingly inconsistent. That inconsistency was acknowledged in the program as a choice reflecting the transitional moment in French theater, but when Prestigiacomo’s own background in physical comedy informs elements such as the classical, elegant, elastic Commedia performance of the Harlequin (Larry Frier), it’s hard not to wish for more. The stated aims of the production style were perhaps best represented by the performance of Jordan Ty Mylnar as the young prince Agis, the funniest in a very funny cast, who expertly balanced period mannerism and modern sensibility. The result was a charming, accessible production that made fun of itself (Mallory Lane, as the princess Leonide, was engaging throughout, but her handling of the very self-conscious exposition at the top of the show deserved its own round of applause). The design was superb, transparent, and supportive. The costumes gave us context, showcasing the characters and their relationships to one another. The set cleverly created the illusion that we were privy to the backstage world of this troupe, inviting us into the experience.

Marivaux is enjoying a renewed popularity of late, and productions such as this one are the reason. Using James Magruder’s celebrated translation (recently made into a musical) which juxtaposes literary language with contemporary diction to approximate the witty, irreverent romantic repartee the French call marivaudage, TU’s Triumph reminds us that the silliness of the 1700s remains seminal to our understanding of modern theater, unequaled training for emerging actors, and a damn fine evening’s entertainment.

At San Antonio College, the Theatre and Speech Communication Department is presenting Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics, directed by Paula Rodriguez. A family of Cuban émigrés runs a cigar factory in Florida in 1929, and follows the tradition of hiring a lector to read stories to the cigar rollers while they work. The ‘Anna’ of the title is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the story the new lector is reading to the workers, and through which they all begin to interpret their lives and dreams and longings.

Triumph of Love

7pm Wed-Thu, 8pm Fri-Sat
Through February 18
$6 general; $4 student

Trinity University
1 Trinity Pl.

Anna in the Tropics

8pm Thu-Sat, 2:30pm Sun
Through Feb 26
$6 adult; $4 student

McAllister Auditorium
1300 San Pedro

This is also an excellent production. Ronald Watson’s detailed, evocative set practically raises the humidity in the huge McAllister Auditorium all by itself. Staci Earnest’s costumes (Cruz is famously directive about costuming) are picture-perfect, the lights (designed by Debra Coates) are moody and nostalgic. The student cast is uniformly strong. Even the “thankless,” largely non-speaking roles of the cigar rollers are inhabited with verve and presence.

Despite its acclaim, however, the script is tedious. Stretches of fresh, honest, compelling dialogue are tediously interrupted by eruptions of self-indulgent, often cloying poetic sentiment that sit oddly in the mouths and hearts of the characters. The Pulitzer committee based its award to Anna on a reading of the script only; originally commissioned and developed by the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, Anna never had a New York run. Perhaps Cruz’ heavy hand with the treacle was less glaring on the page. In fact, it has been somewhat lazily hailed as that element most authentic and essential to any Latino play, magical realism, ignoring the fact that the essence of magical realism is the author’s ability to seamlessly slip the surreal into the fabric of the ordinary, so that the reader suddenly realizes, he knows not how, he has crossed into a disorienting world of magic. The operative concept there is “seamless.”

Nonetheless, both are excellent productions for different reasons. But Marivaux will live to froth another day. Cruz, Yale Drama professorship aside, will become a footnote to the early, self-conscious attempts of the mainstream theater establishment to honor diversity.

By Laurie Dietrich

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