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Photograph by Kevin Berne
FLOW MAXERS: Ron Campbell and Danny Scheie provide some double-entendre moments in 'The Triumph of Love.'

Garden Sports

San Jose Rep romps through Marivaux's farce 'The Triumph of Love'

By Marianne Messina

ALTHOUGH director Lillian Groag takes an analytical approach to translating the 18th-century French humor of Pierre Marivaux for 21st-century American audiences, ultimately this adaptation of The Triumph of Love, now at San Jose Repertory Theatre (in a collaboration with Cal Shakespeare), is directly visual, comedic and randy. The story of the wrongful heir to the throne, Princess Leonide (Stacy Ross), who intends to woo and marry the rightful heir, Agis (Jud Williford), takes place entirely in a Louis XV–era garden.

Groag uses Kate Edmunds' set design to support the play's bawdy undercurrent in an elegant framework. The scene is dominated from the rear by an impressively tall grilled gate, the garden gateway doubling (in the spirit of "marivaudage") as sexual metaphor, it seems; much is made of characters passing through it, all the way to the parting image when the royal couple's exit signals the birth of a golden era. Since Agis has been raised on Spartan philosophy, taught to hate Leonide and cloistered away by his uncle, Hermocrates (Dan Hiatt), and his aunt, Leontine (Domenique Lozano), the princess must infiltrate this haven. Wearing men's attire, Leonide further twists the natural order of things until it is as gnarled as the metallic-looking brambles behind the gateway.

On a more literal level, the dominant set piece downstage is a small, obscene fountain featuring a vaguely sculpted but clearly urinating Cupid. Whenever the mischief-making clown Arlecchino (Danny Scheie) bounces his tiptoes onto the stage, the fountain flows (nice technical work), but it won't utter a dribble for that red-nosed lout of a clown, Dimas (Ron Campbell). The mimelike scene (commedia dell'arte meets Americana) in which Dimas tries to get the fountain to flow for him reaches moments of Red Skelton perfection. Scheie is no midget as "the little man," Arlecchino. But popping up at inopportune moments as the "little man" double entendre suggests, he can make himself small and amuse with his lively maneuvers. Leonide goes to Machiavellian lengths of seduction, easily exciting pent-up characters like Uncle Hermocrates and Aunt Leontine. Before every big, black lie, Ross pauses for a brief (humorous) expression of conscience before hurtling into an elaborate story. In this production, love rolls in on violin music. When a character is smitten, up well the violins (sound designer Jeff Mockus)—lesser characters seem to get cheesier music—and at the same time, the lighting ambience (Russell H. Champa, lighting design) goes from plein-air to theme park. Lozano's irresistibly funny Leontine swoons and gapes at each new advance from the cross-dressed princess.

As infatuation drives the mania, clothes begin to sport red in Raquel Barreto's clever costume designs; oversize roses bob from Leontine's white dress, and the wounds of love look a little like springing leaks. Like everything else in the production, Barreto maintains balance between humor and beauty—gold brocade on satiny white, crimson tailcoat accented in gold buttons. The rulers leave love's devastation behind them for a rare and brief touching moment, heightened by not portraying Hermocrates and Leontine as pompous, frivolous or bitter. Just as it softens the crass with elegance, this production leans away from harsh caricature and amuses with civility.

THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE, a San Jose Repertory Theatre production, plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Oct. 21 at the Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $15–$59. (408.367.7255)

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