Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Triumph of Love
Also see Patrick's recent review of Merrily We Roll Along
Such is the case with Pierre de Marivaux's play, The Triumph of Love, first performed in Paris in 1732 and now revived (with a translation by Stephen Wadsworth) by Berkeley's Shotgun Players. If you ignore some of the silliness that would never pass in real life–women dressing as men (and passing!), people agreeing to marry someone they met that very afternoon, long-simmering enmities suddenly abandoned–there's a whole lot of fun to be had with this period piece, thanks to taut direction (from Shotgun Artistic Director Patrick Dooley) and support from a terrific cast of players.
The story concerns Leonide (a delightfully passionate Veronica Renner), a princess ridden with guilt because she sits on a throne that was usurped by her uncle. As a sort of penance for this coup, Leonide embarks on a journey to the house of Hermocrate (David Boyll), a cloistered philosopher who lives with his sister Leontine (Mary Ann Rodgers). Together they care for and educate young Agis (Edward Im), the rightful heir to Leonide's throne. Stolen away as a babe to prevent his murder by Leonide's evil uncle, Agis has been raised to despise the princess Leonide.
Worried that she would be killed were she to reveal her true identity–and her mission to restore Agis to the throne–Leonide and her servant Corine (Susannah Martin) dress as men and enter Hermocrate's garden via an open gate. There they encounter Dimas (Wayne Wong), Hermocrate's conniving gardener, and Harlequin (Jamin Jollo), both of whom Leonide bribe in order to recruit them as collaborators in her scheme.
With her righteous mission and considerable royal charm, Leonide manages to besot both Leontine and Hermocrate (who sees through her rather thin drag king persona), despite the fact that both had committed themselves to lives of pure reason, eschewing the vagaries of love. She also manages to get Agis to fall for her, scoring the love-at-first-sight hat trick. Over the course of three acts (the play runs 2.5 hours, with two ten-minute intermissions), everyone who had denied the power of love is ultimately overwhelmed by it and, despite a couple of broken hearts, all's well that ends well. For despite the lies Leonide dispenses, her heart is very much in the right place, and a question arises (as it does in Dear Evan Hansen): if a lie is told in the service of a greater good, is it wrong to lie? Or, put another way by Leonide herself, "Can a virtuous love inspire feelings that are not virtuous?"
This action of The Triumph of Love takes place on a lovely set (by Malcolm Rodgers) that beautifully creates the sense of an 18th century Italianate garden. Director Patrick Dooley has done equally wonderful work here, utilizing virtually every square inch of the Ashby Stage to immerse us in this silly but undeniably charming story. He milks wonderful energy from each member of his cast for an end result that may feel incredibly old-fashioned, but is nonetheless a wondrous romp through the vagaries of Romantic Love. You just have to go with it.
The Triumph of Love runs through April 30, 2023, at Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $28-$48. For tickets and information, please visit www.shotgunplayers.org.