by Lynn on May 1, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Written by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux. Adapted and translated by Nicholas Billon. Directed by Matthew Jocelyn. Set and props by Anick La Bissonière. Costumes by Linda Brunelle. Lighting by Luc Prairie. Sound by Lyon Smith. Choreography by Catherine Tardiff. Starring: Zach Fraser, Gil Garratt, Gemma James-Smith, Harry Judge, Trish Lindström, William Webster.

Plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 12.

The Game of Love and Chance by French playwright Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, is a comedy of love, class and the lucky chance of finding your perfect mate. Marivaux wrote it in 1730 for a troupe of “Italian actors…whose theatrical tradition was based largely on commedia dell’arte techniques brought from Italy in the 17th “ (from a program note by director Matthew Jocelyn.) “These actors were known for their brash, clown-like style of acting and their prodigious capacity for improvisation. The roles they portrayed were highly codified, all the more so as each character had its own recognizable mask, and an expected stereotypical behaviour that went along with it. The revolution that Marivaux brought to the theatre was in his unique capacity to take advantage of the virtuosic skill of these actors, their comic acumen and truly gymnastic stage presence while at the same time progressively bringing greater depth and nuance to the characters.”

Jocelyn also states in his program note that Marivaux ‘was at the height of his art…as an exacting analyst of human behaviour.” This provides an interesting frame of reference when discussing Jocelyn’s occasionally arresting. but generally eye-brow knitting, teeth-gritting production.

A marriage has been arranged between Monsieur Orgon’s daughter Silvia and Dorante, the son of an old friend of Orgon’s. Orgon wants to ensure that Silvia is happy with this arrangement first (how progressive of him). She agrees but only if she can first observe Dorante in disguise so as to learn his true nature. Silvia tells her father she will trade places with her maid Lisette for a better look. Orgon agrees. What he doesn’t tell her is that he has received a letter from Dorante’s father revealing that Dorante has had the same idea. He will trade places with his valet Arlequino to get a true idea of the character of Silvia.

Like minds are revealed. Both sets of disguised characters fall for their equal in class, breeding and intellect, which causes considerable distress for Silvia and Dorante who believe they are falling in love with someone from a lower class.

In his production Matthew Jocelyn is true to the ‘clown-like style of acting’ as might have been done in Marivaux’s day and takes great advantage of his cast’s ‘comic acumen’ and ‘truly gymnastic stage presence.” As Silvia, Trish Lindström is cool, matter of fact, forthright and in control. As her maid Lisette, Gemma James-Smith, quivers both vocally and physically when confronted with the prospect of marrying. Both are very funny, and beautifully convey the intriguing women they are. Forthright, canny, wiley.

But it’s the intense physicality of this production that is both compelling and puzzling in Jocelyn’s production. Indeed his actors don’t just enter a room they seemingly explode into it. The French (double) doors of Anick La Bissonnière initially striking but ultimately bizarre set, snap open and instantly there is Dorante (Harry Judge) in disguise as his valet carrying suitcases. Judge is at once formal, besotted with whom he thinks is the ‘wrong’ woman, conflicted and charming in his confusion.

Later when Arlequino (Gil Garratt) the valet, disguised as Dorante enters it is even more exaggerated. Garratt leans into the room, his arms behind him, each hand gripping the doorknob of each door, one leg stretched behind, anchored to the ground with the other leg wrapped around the first. The look would not be out of place on the prow of a ship. Indeed Garratt doesn’t just move from place to place, he skips, flips over furniture, slides, and assumes posses that suggest extreme yoga. It is an impressively physical performance. He is as intense in his acting as Arlequino as well. The question is why all that overwhelming physicality? Sure his director is trying to make a statement but it is Arlequino’s verbal gymnastics that drive his employer crazy not the gyrations.

At the end, when the characters change back into their ‘regular’ costumes, Arlequino helps Lisette tie on her apron. Only he doesn’t tie the straps around her waist at the back, he ties them around her arms and secures them tightly when he ties the straps, thus holding her captive, hostage, a prisoner. Woman as subservient to the overpowering man. Infuriating and misogynistic.

After both Dorante and Silvia reveal their true selves to each other and profess their love, Jocelyn has each go to a separate corner seemingly unhappy about the outcome. Huh? If Marivaux intended that surely he would have written the play that way?

For a play that is supposedly about love Jocelyn’s production is devoid of warmth, affection, or dare one say it, love. No one touches anyone with tenderness only force or belligerence. The production is also lacking in nuance and subtlety.

Concept without context means nothing. I can appreciate that Nicolas Billon has adapted as well as translated Marivaux’s play, but to completely ignore the message of the play as Jocelyn has done seems almost perverse. It’s as if he is sending up the play instead of illuminating it. Anick La Bissonnière’s set doesn’t help, striking though it is. Initially we see red carpet and a white wall with a sketched outline of double doors up centre. Characters initially enter from double doors at either end of the stage. Then the whole white wall rises to reveal more red carpet and two large multi-sided mirrored structures with hidden entrances and exits. Anything illuminated in the mirrors is distorted, and results in many images. Are we to take from this that it’s hard to tell who the real character is? That their identity is distorted? A bit of overkill, that.

I find the whole production, valiant acting notwithstanding, to be teeth-gritting in its misconception. Ordinarily I would say don’t go near this one. But I’m going to be as perverse as Mr. Jocelyn and recommend that everybody sees The Game of Love and Chance. Mr. Jocelyn is a director in total control of his production; with every flicker of an arm; every bit of physical business—yes I know it comes from a talented cast but he’s the director who allows it. He has presented a concept that is consistent, provocative and totally at odds with the play Marivaux wrote. And I think people should see it for themselves, to see how dramatically a production can go off the rails.

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