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High-Stakes 'Game' at SJ Rep

[whitespace] Game of Love and Chance
Pat Kirk

Clothes Make the Class: Aristocrats Dorante (David Newell) and Sylvia (Francesca Faridany) make like servants in 'The Game of Love and Chance.'

Class rules trump hearts in Marivaux romp

By Anne Gelhaus

IN The Game of Love and Chance, the stakes are high, the rules keep changing and the players refuse to show all they're holding even after they've been called. Written in 1730, Marivaux's script brilliantly adapts the characters and plot devices of the commedia dell'arte style of theater, and the San José Repertory Company stays true to this form in its production of Stephen Wadworth's sparkling adaptation from the French.

The staging by director Timothy Douglas, who was Wadworth's assistant director in an L.A. production of the play, is full of seamless transitions from the social artifice Marivaux uses to mock the human condition to the emotional depths he plundered to celebrate it.

The artifice is supplied primarily by chambermaid Lisette (Gail Shapiro) and valet Harlequin (Harry Waters Jr.), who unbeknown to each other have traded places with their respective mistress and master, who have been promised to each other in marriage. The intendeds both came up with the idea for the switch, thinking that, disguised as servants, they'd be able to discover the true nature of their betrothed.

The servants' perception of what it takes to be a member of the privileged class is a source of much humor. Both Shapiro and Waters are fantastic physical comedians. In taking on their masters' airs, their characters affect gestures and speech patterns that highlight rather than mask their actual status. The costumes they choose are equally ridiculous. Designer Beaver Bauer has Harlequin appropriately decked out in loud reds, greens and yellows, and Lisette sports a bustle and wig so big they almost engulf her.

The artifice of Sylvia (Francesca Faridany) and Dorante (David Nevell) is more refined as they try in vain to adopt subservient attitudes and yet manage to convince each other of their mutual deception. Unlike their servants, this pair is schooled in the ways of polite subterfuge, and their machinations threaten to destroy what should have been a very simple courtship.

Marivaux could easily have set up Sylvia and Dorante as shallow game players and left it at that. Instead, he allowed the characters to increase in complexity as their situation does, and both Faridany and Nevell are adept at letting this depth of feeling show through their societal armor. Faridany's third-act speech is especially moving, revealing how Sylvia is acting as much out of self-defense as she is out of snobbery.

In another nod to commedia, J.B. Wilson's gorgeous but sparse set design looks as though it could be packed up and taken on the road with little trouble. Luckily, though, this Game will be in town for a while.

The Game of Love and Chance plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4:30 and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm, and Wednesday (Feb. 18) at noon through Feb. 22 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $16-$32. (408/291-2255)

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From the February 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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