By Pierre de Marivaux; directed by Anaïs Koivisto
Produced by Everyday Inferno Theatre Company
Off Off Broadway, Classic Play
Runs through 8.23.15
Summit Rock, Central Park between 81st and 85th Streets
by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.17.15
Max Hanau, Aubrey E. Quinn, and David Federman in The Dispute. Photo credit by Anaïs Koivisto.
BOTTOM LINE: A neat, clunky old play on the mysterious nature of love and identity.
Here’s a play you don’t see everyday. As the dutiful, Masters degree-holding nerd that I am, I’ve come across Marivaux’s The Dispute on a few occasions. For many good reasons, you’ve probably never heard of it. But I’d like to argue it’s worth a good dusting off, at least as we get to see it here, presented with care by the Everyday Inferno Theatre Company.
Filled with luscious material on the construction of gender identities, race relations, and the moral imitations of entertainment, Marivaux constructs a story that places four captive young people, two men and two women, in the wild for the first time. Now at the age of eighteen, they’ve never been released (from where is uncertain) and must figure out how the world works. It seems an argument has brewed between the Prince (Paul Hinkes) and his wife Hermiane (Lauren Bourke) over what gender is more faithful in relationships. In an attempt to solve the dispute, the Prince releases his captives to find out—in an experiment that seems totally scientifically sound.
What makes The Dispute uncomfortable for me actually has nothing to do with this experiment, but rather with the servant characters of color, Mesrou (Antonio Demarcus Jones) and Carise (Veronique Jeanmarie). Their skin color is referenced many times in the play, but rather offhandedly. The white Egle (Aubrey E. Quinn), one of the captive girls, mentions how ugly Carise is due to her black skin. They are lines that force The Dispute into being both dangerous and juicy in 2015. Sadly, director Koivisto doesn’t allow a comment on this, so instead it lies with a poor aftertaste.
There are more wonderful things here that are explored by Koivisto’s production. Wonderfully set just within the border of Central Park, so that the clear outlines of Upper West Side mansion apartments are clear through the foliage, allows us to understand the nauseating degree to which Marivaux’s play goes to provide us high-class entertainment for the rich. We watch four young people in their most fragile moments, learning, loving, and cheating. Also, due to the wonderful ambiance of the ever-changing landscape of Central Park, we get to discover them hearing overhead planes and the occasional dog walker. It’s easy to see parallels to our reality television culture and the social media public shaming we all participate in with varying degrees of will.
Koivisto, also the costume designer, gives the ensemble white linens with period inspiration. Crisp and clean at the beginning, they quickly become disturbed with sweat and grass and dirt stains, a natural fit for the discoveries of the play. The Prince and Hermiane get darker clothes, Hermiane in some impossible looking park heels with a nonsensical train.
At the cost of free, there’s no reason to not check out The Dispute. Certainly donate if you please to a company doing some noteworthy classical theater work in the city. This oldie but goodie is desperate for fresh eyes and some new lovin’.
(The Dispute is presented at Summer Rock in Central Park between 81st and 85th Streets, through August 23, 2015. Performances are Fridays-Sunday at 6:30. Tickets are suggested at $10 and by donation. More information is available at www.everydayinferno.com or by calling 347. 291.1805)