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The Triumph of Love

Love can be dangerous anytime and anywhere, but in the French court it was a particularly wicked game, as evidenced by the popular stage comedy The Triumph of Love written by Marivaux in 1732, and now in production at the Germinal Stage Denver.

Like the Choderlos de Laclos' novel, Dangerous Liaisons, written 50 years later, unsuspecting lovers in Marivaux's story are courted for the pleasure of the conquest and for the effect that such liaisons may have on other romantic targets. But while de Laclos takes his drama to its logical conclusion, Marivaux is decidedly more ambiguous.

Photo of Michael Blumenstock as Agis and Catherine Duquette as Leonide
Michael Blumenstock as Agis and
Catherine Duquette as Leonide
We learn in a lengthy prologue that the princess Leonide has fallen in love at first sight with Agis, who is unaware that he is the son of the monarchs deposed by Leonide's parents. To court Agis, Leonide dresses as a young man and enters the estate of Hermocrates, an esteemed philosopher who espouses reason over emotions.

Catherine Duquette as Leonide is a perfect chameleon, at first lowering her voice and swaggering about as she befriends Agis and woos Democrates' sister, the iron maiden Leontine. Later, when the tables turn, Duquette spins with them, exhibiting her coquettish charms to tempt Democrates from his pedestal of rationality and Agis from his infatuation with idealism.

In the face of Leonide's advances, Erica Sarzin-Borrillo's Leontine puts up a brave fight, convincing herself of the superiority of her tempered life. We simply do not expect her to crack. But under the onslaught of Leonide's silver-tongued charms, we sit amazed as Leontine first begins to quiver, then totally gives in to years of pent-up emotions.

Her brother, Michael Parker's Hermocrates, is even a harder nut. He sees through Leonide's disguise, and appears impervious to her when she switches her tactics and applies her feminine wiles (while she shows us she's playing with him). Parker holds Hermocrates emotions in check like a true stoic, allowing his character's growing interest in love to be shown through his manipulative tactics and ever less-convincing rationalizations.

Like his mentors Hermocrates and Leontine, Michael Blumenstock's Agis is a prisoner of the ego and its monolithic allegiance to ideas. Rigid and seemingly emotionless, we believe Blumenstock when he says he hates love and avoids women.

Here, director Baierlein's split stage (one part classic garden, the other a spartan study) and intricate blocking (with characters lingering on one set to overhear what's happening on the other), adds an existential dimension to the experience. When Leonides stops short of confessing her true identity and feelings to Agis, is she just trying to delude Hermocrates (who watches from the other set), or is she truly undecided between the two men?

As so often happens in comedy, it is the servants, Leonides' woman-in-waiting Corine, and Hermocrates' classic clown Harlequin and corrupt gardener, Dimas, that grease the wheels of the plot. Right from the top, when Harlequin falls for the quick-quipping Corine ("I find that my inclination is growing by leaps and bounds."), the game is on. Michelle Welton is silky smooth as the devoted Corine, Tad Baierlein, reserved and dry as Harlequin, and Paul Barner a bumbling bumpkin as the malaprop-challenged Dimas.

While Leonides is every bit as slick and compelling a suitor as Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, her ultimate goal, despite its naïveté, is one with which we can sympathize, and even forgive the emotional transgressions executed in its name. Thus Miravaux succeeds in getting us to question our own ruthlessness in the name of love. Are we to believe that this is the meaning of "Love triumphs over all"?

Germinal Stage Denver's polished production of The Triumph of Love runs through May 9th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows

 

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