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BOTTOM LINE: A French classic that doesn't delve too deeply into its sci-fi reimagination, but does provide for a delightful evening of deceit and seduction.
How do you cure a case of rotten love? By adding in a dose or two (or five) of deceptive lust! Such is the case in Triumph Of Love, produced by the Redd Tale Theatre Company, as the heroine Léonide tries to set a group of love-shunning, toga-wearing philosophers straight on the truths of human nature in this time-travelling re-imagination of Marivaux's 1737 play. (Time travel in a 1737 French classic? Yes that's right, but more on that later.)
In order to restore a rightful throne, find a true love, and wreak some mayhem in a multitude of ways and for a number of other reasons, Léonide, played by Lynn Kenny, must infiltrate a cult of philosopher hermits trying to live out the rest of their lives without the slightest distraction of that silly little thing called love. She works her magic on fertile ground and soon find that those deprived end up needing a little loving the most.
The play is strongly akin to many of Shakespeare's comedies of love and relies on mistaken identities and heated trans-gendered scenarios to provide its comic enjoyments. One refreshing difference from the somewhat similar Twelfth Night, however, is that the deceits don't hold up until the end, and instead unravel much more quickly with the great shattering of illusion occurring more in the middle of the plot as opposed to holding out until the last scene. The depiction of the aftermath and fallout is a refreshing alteration to a plot structure that would otherwise have been a much more standard telling.
That being said, Triumph of Love occasionally relies too heavily on excessive exposition; it only really starts to shine once the setting of the circumstances (tedious but still very necessary) has been taken care of.
But once that happens, some of the actors let their deft comic talent run free. Virginia Bartholomew, in particular, is hilarious as the lonly over-the-hill spinster who is so desperate for any affection in her sterile environment that she is stubbornly blind to the feminine wiles of her new lover. Triumph of Love becomes a delight to watch. Until then the acting and staging is for the most part either stylized, formal, or campy, depending on the views and inclinations of the viewer.
It is an undeniable fact that the setting up of the blocks will never be as much fun as knocking them over, yet the higher the tower of deceit is built the louder and more satisfying crash that ensues will be.
One very intriguing and original point of note is that the Redd Tale Theatre Company (RTTC) aims to put a sci-fi twist on their productions; RTTC's inaugural production in 2003 was a very well-received adaptation of The War Of The Worlds. To think of how a sci-fi concept would apply to a traditional play such as this, especially after we incorporate its already anachronistic design concepts, boggles the mind. I won't spoil any surprises, since director Will Le Vasseur's take on the story gives an interesting spin on the raison d'etre of bygone plays.
In the end, the company doesn't quite live up to its original mission statement of adding a cross-genre twist to a cross-gendered play, but that does not diminish its viewing value and there is plenty to enjoy nonetheless on a more traditional scale.
(Triumph of Love runs through August 29, 2010, at Nicu's Spoon Theater, 38 West 38th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $12 - $15 and are available by calling 212-868-4444 or by visiting www.smarttix.com. For more show info visit www.reddtale.org.)