Shotgun Players’ appealing production of the early 18th-century romantic comedy, The Triumph of Love, written by French playwright Pierre de Marivaux (1688–1763), transports us to a country garden in which a battle for the heart is fought. And it is brutal. Unlike similar plots by Shakespeare and Molière, Marivaux’s witty romp digs deeper into all the aspects of love. He exposes its pain, hurt and vulnerability, as well as its physical attraction and excitement.
Marivaux’s lead, Princess Léonide of Sparta (the fantastic Veronica Renner), is very much a 21st-century woman — confident, articulate, attractive, witty and commanding in her assault on the household of her enemy, the old philosopher, Hermocrates (David Boyll) and his sister, Léontine (Mary Ann Rodgers).
Léonide, with her servant Corine (Susannah Martin), must gain entrance to the house because Léonide has, from afar, hopelessly fallen in love with Agis (Edward Im), a young man who lives in the household. But wait, there’s more — Agis is also a rival to Léonide’s throne. But, for love, Léonide would be pleased to share the throne with him.
Of course, Léonide and Corine must be disguised as men. Who would take them seriously as women? Their secret is quickly discovered by two servants of the household, the dim-witted, misspeaking gardener Dimas (Wayne Wong) and the acrobatic, mocking, masked Harlequin (Jamin Jollo). They are happy to assist in the charade after receiving bountiful bribes.
To remain at Hermocrates’ and Léontine’s house, Léonide concocts an elaborate scheme in which she convinces both siblings, separately, that she is in love with each one of them. And soon, Agis swears his friendship and love for Léonide. By the third act, all three are in love with Léonide.
And at this point, I began to sympathize with Léontine and Hermocrates. How would Léonide weasel out of her hurtful mess? Unfortunately, in an otherwise somewhat lengthy play, the quick third-act resolution is a bit unsatisfactory because it didn’t entirely resolve the emotional upheaval Léonide caused. In other similar farcical comedies (think Molière), only characters who deserve it get their comeuppance. Not so much here. But there is a triumph of true love; after all, girl does get boy.
Patrick Dooley, Shotgun’s artistic director and the fine director of this production, has gone all out with The Triumph of Love. The cast is uniformly talented, and the modern translation by Stephen Wadsworth highlights the original’s subtle wit. The verdant stage set is delightful (Malcolm Rodgers). A dozen audience members have seats on stage within inches of the actors. Picnic boxes are available for pre-order. Fine wine and signature-themed cocktails are available for purchase. The total package, including the outstanding performance of Veronica Renner as Léonide, creates an enjoyable and engaging evening of theater.
The Triumph of Love runs two hours and 30 minutes, including two intermissions at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, extended through April 30. Mask-wearing is encouraged but not required, except on “masked matinee” Sundays, on April 2 and 16. General admission ticket prices are $28-$48.
Tickets for those 25 years and under: $10 with discount code MADTIX. Community Tickets for those with financial hardship: $15 with discount code COMMUNITY. Shotgun offers two cinema-quality live-stream performances on April 6 and April 13 for $20. There is a special haptic tour and performance for blind and low-vision patrons on Sunday, April 9. Reservations are encouraged. More information can be found on the Shotgun Players website.