Love Downs Reason &
Aristotle, Troy Falls
In B'way Musical Hit
By John B. Van Sickle
Triumph of Love (playing to sold-out crowds at the Royale, W. 45th near Broadway) turns classic comedy (Marivaux) into a snappy suite of song & dance- running the gamut from lyrical to bawdy, acrobatic to balletic, vaudeville to romance & bringing the crowd to its feet with cheers. Though likewise swept away, any adept of classical drama, philosophy, & myth also feels a special spritz at seeing familiar types & tropes return with so much verve & style & wit. The whole thing is so perfectly, so brilliantly, in a nutshell so theatrical comme il faut that I find myself exclaiming, "This is something else!"
Take for instance an exit by Hesione-virgin aunt on verge of love (played by Betty Buckley)-after a song that stops the show. Lingering, turning back to the audience, as if unable to tear herself away from our applause, she has to be dragged off, triggering yet greater applause. Why? Because she has shifted roles, going beyond the comical pathos of the spinster to mimic the stage-struck actress in reflection on the medium itself .
Also upstaging the story with reference to stage convention, the valet declares himself not merely a harlequin, but Harlequin (Roger Bart) & proves himself the very type of comic energy, guile & wit. When he mimes a lecherous suitor, his phallodeictic antics reincarnate old comedy itself.
Harlequin has his antitype & foil in the phlegmatic gardener Dimas (played by Kevin Chamberlin: is that 'demos' or just 'dim'?), not thin but stocky, lumbering not limber, stolid rather than svelte. Manipulated by Corine the bumptious maid (played to the hilt by Nancy Opel), who takes the tradition of the clever domestic to new peaks (disguised as Troy, but do I give away too much), Harlequin declares a sudden "inclination"& Dimas desires to "show his tubers," only to give, when he sees she's tricked him, a gardener's groan, "I sure feel soiled."
Enthralled by this hilarious counterpoint in basso, I have neglected the master plot. Once upon a time in Sparta, Prince Agis (played by Christopher Sieber) was deprived of the throne by his wicked uncle & aunt, who killed his parents & placed their own daughter, Princess Leonide (played by Susan Egan), on the throne. Another uncle & aunt, Hermocrates (played by my Brooklyn College colleague F. Murray Abraham: does he show such magnificent hauture in Flatbush) & Hesione, rescued their orphaned nephew & rigorously reared him in an isolated garden to be "a student of reason" loving books & hating the female sex. As the play opens, they have determined that the time is ripe for Agis to sally forth, kill Leonide, & claim his throne.
Before he can pack his sword & books, Love steals a march. Leonide arrives, desperately in love with Agis & determined to penetrate the defenses of the garden by any means to win his heart. Hence plots of disguise & deceit, as she invents one stratagem after another to tame the stern Hermocrates, unbend the stiff Hesione, & melt their dourly misogynist ward. When she comes to the end of her rope, Troy takes over with her newly enlisted cohort, only too eager to serve one on their cantankerous lord.
Besides the sheer amusement that wins the crowd, I keep feeling an extra pleasure at the keen theatrical consciousness which makes familiar the familiars turns & themes so fresh. This "something else" beyond the usual pleasure in the play, this delight in the art of the display, suggests not only a popular but a metatheatrical triumph.