THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE
Monday, October 2, 2017 at 7:30 pm
at Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space
2537 Broadway at 95th Street
Translated by JAMES MAGRUDER
Directed by JESSE BERGER
Original Music by GREG PLISKA
Live Music performed by the LUMIERE STRING QUARTET
Featuring CELIA KEENAN-BOLGER, ARNIE BURTON, CLIFTON DUNCAN, CARSON ELROD, ZACH GRENIER, KATHRYN MEISLE, and MOLLY RANSON
Love is a force to be reckoned with in Marivaux’s classic comedy, as Princess Léonide of Sparta employs wits and wiles—and britches too—when she attempts a tour de force triple-seduction of not only her young love, but also his two stick-in-the-mud guardians. This delightful tale of multiple misunderstandings has “a contemporary edge” (New York Times) and “delicious soufflé lightness” (New York Post) in James Magruder’s translation. Marivaux’s 18th-century masterpiece asks: Can the rational really reign…when the heart refuses to follow?
ABOUT the PLAY
The set-up: Hermocrate and Leontine, philosopher siblings in their middle years, have hidden their nephew, Prince Agis, in a walled garden, training him to scorn Love and all its feminine agents and live solely by Reason. Enter Princess Léonide—royal usurper(ess) and moreover, mad about that bookish boy she saw reading under a tree.
To win Agis’s love, and not incidentally, restore him to his throne, Léonide must seduce all the philosophers. Her ability to juggle four separate identities in The Triumph of Love makes her the most quicksilver, as well as the brainiest and most diabolical of female characters in Marivaux’s theater. Her manipulative powers made her a problematic heroine for the eighteenth century—indeed, Le Triomphe de l’amour “did not please” at its premiere in 1732—but made her ripe for re-discovery in the twentieth, first in France in the 1940’s, Germany in the eighties, and America, at last, in the nineties.
Disguised as Phocion, an itinerant scholar seeking wisdom from the hermetic (and hermeneutical) trio, she begins with Léontine, appealing to the bluestocking’s long-dormant vanity. Next up is Hermocrate, a tougher nut to crack. He discovers “Phocion’s” true sex immediately, so s/he instantly shifts to Aspasie, a Portia-like casuist who will truss Hermocrate up with his own logic. After two itchy, homoerotic encounters with Prince Agis, Phocion reveals a second Aspasie to him, a gamine and tender woman who exploits his naivete nevertheless.
Is the real Léonide any one of these assumed characters, or is she the woman who says proudly to her maid, Corine, “They’re all cooked to my taste!”? Or is Léonide the haughty princess who threatens to put her rustic henchmen, Harlequin and Dimas, in prison for their greed? Whoever she is, Léonide is a dazzling part for a fearless actress. With astonishing simplicity, Marivaux has combined the roles of the dewy inamorata and the nervy confidante.
Since comedy must still instruct as well as entertain in 18th century culture, Love will prove itself more powerful than Reason, but Léonide’s lesson is a harsh one for the siblings, who awaken to its force like children groping for speech. “It’s very painful to switch philosophies!” Hermocrate cries out to his nephew when confessing his error. Love has made them human, and this is a wonderful, terrible thing. Change is both a relief and a terror to accept and finally embrace. Characters who change and grow by play’s end mark a significant dramaturgical shift from the baroque eponymous monsters in Molière and the fixed masks of the commedia dell’arte, tightly plotted classic forms whose obstacles are exterior—irate fathers, lost fortunes, jealous rivals, etc. Marivaux’s plays, on the other hand, feature loose plots and interior obstacles—vanity, self-regard, fear, self-consciousness, ego problems, as they used to be called.
A generation before Rousseau, Marivaux upheld the rights of the individual to develop as a human being: he always granted his characters the space and opportunity to recognize themselves, to know themselves, and to proceed from there. When love triumphs over reason three times in The Triumph of Love, Marivaux the moralist is somewhat at cross-purposes with Marivaux the psychologist. That there are as many victims as victors in love when the curtain falls transcends the play’s original rococo context and places Marivaux firmly in the eternal modern.
ABOUT the PLAYWRIGHTS
Pierre Carlet de Marivaux (1688-1763), a private man in a hysterically public—and most theatrical—century, once wrote: “I have spied in the human heart all the different niches where Love can hide when it is afraid to show itself, and each one of my comedies has for its object to make Love come out from its niche.” Parisian by birth, Marivaux ditched a law career and made his first lasting impression in the theater with Harlequin Refined by Love (1720). Alternating his collaborations between the Comédiens Italiens and the Comédie-Française, Marivaux premiered three dozen plays in his lifetime, the most canonical among them being The Game of Love and Chance, Double Infidelities, The Surprise of Love, The Dispute, and False Confidences. Over the objections of his eternal critical gadfly, Voltaire, Marivaux was elected to the Académie-Française in 1742. A sometime journalist, Marivaux also left at his death two unfinished serial novels, Le Paysan parvenu and La Vie de Marianne.
James Magruder’s adaptations of works by Molière, Marivaux, Lesage, Labiche, Gozzi, Dickens, Hofmannsthal, and Giraudoux have been staged on and off-Broadway, across the country, and in Germany and Japan. His Three French Comedies (Yale Press, 1996)) was named an “Outstanding Literary Translation” by the American Literary Translation Association. His fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Subtropics, Hopkins Review, The Normal School, Gargoyle, New Stories from the Midwest, and elsewhere. His début novel, Sugarless, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the 2010 William Saroyan International Writing Prize. His collection of linked stories, Let Me See It, was published by TriQuarterly Books in 2014, and his latest, Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, came out in 2016. His He is a four-time fellow of the MacDowell Colony and his writing has also been supported by the Kenyon Playwrights Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, where he was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in Fiction. He teaches dramaturgy at Swarthmore College and fiction at UB. Visit him at www.jamesmagruder.com.
SPOILER ALERT SYNOPSIS
Princess Léonide of Sparta arrives at the estate of the philosopher, Hermocrate. She has fallen in love, from afar, with Hermocrate's student, Agis, who is actually the legitimate prince of the realm over which she rules. Knowing that Hermocrate is adamantly opposed to women joining the retreat (except for his sister, Léontine, who assists him), Léonide disguises herself as a man, calls herself Phocion, and aided by her servant, Corine, proceeds to woo brother, sister and pupil simultaneously. Hermocrate sees through her disguise so Phocion convinces him she has fallen in love with him; she persuades Léontine, who believes Phocion is a man, that “he” is in love with her. These deceptions allow Léonide to meet Agis, whom she first wins over as a friend, and later as a lover when she reveals her true sex, despite the fact that Hermocrate has taught him to loathe women and the very idea of love. When Hermocrate and his sister arrive, both eager to elope with Phocion, she reveals to all that she is the illegitimate princess, loves Agis, and intends to abdicate the crown to him.