Gemma James-Smith and Gil Garratt (photo credit: lucetg.com)
A play brought back to greatness
by Chris Lane
Once in a while a modern adaptation of an old text comes along that is both fresh and classic, and Centaur Theatre’s production of The Game of Love and Chance manages to be just that. The play was written in the 17th century by the French master Pierre de Marivaux, who is particularly known for the unique way he manipulates language. Local playwright Nicolas Billon has recently written a new translation of the work, and he succeeds at maintaining the playful wit of Marivaux’s words while making the language modern and accessible (and of course, English). The director, Matthew Jocelyn (artistic director of Toronto's Canadian Stage - where this production is headed), shows his expertise in adapting Marivaux’s work in this uproarious production.
The actors in this production pull off commedia skilfully and energetically
The play was written to be performed in the style of commedia dell’arte, an old Italian form of theatre that uses exaggerated, clown-like gestures and a roguish cast of stock characters. The actors in this production pull off commedia skilfully and energetically, playing up reactions and movements to the delight of the audience. The acting is more theatrical than realistic, so it can take some getting used to, but the actors bring the story to life with their wild antics.
The Game of Love and Chance centres on Silvia, a difficult-to-please young woman whose father has arranged that she marry Dorante, the most eligible bachelor in town. On the day that she is to meet Dorante, Silvia schemes to switch places with her maid, Lisette, so that she can secretly observe her suitor. Little does she know that Dorante has separately devised the exact same plan and has switched places with his valet, Bourguignon, while only Silvia’s father and brother are fully aware of this double-deception. A series of hilarious scenes ensue as the young characters fall for each other while grappling with their mixed feelings about love and status, before they one by one learn what is going on.
It is not an easy task to do justice to an old commedia play such as this, but this production keeps the audience laughing throughout. Gemma James-Smith is excellent as the endearing and bumbling maid, who together with Gil Garrat as the valet makes a hilarious pair of clownish servants. Garrat’s acrobatic Bourguignon perfectly typifies the commedia archetype of the mischievous and nimble Arlequino, so much that he is even credited in the program under the name Arlequino instead of Bourguignon. Trish Lindström is wonderful as Silvia, whose attempts to be coy and aloof sometimes fool herself more than anyone else, while Harry Judge is charming as the smooth-talking Dorante. The talented William Webster and Zach Fraser round out the stellar cast as Silvia’s father and brother.
The set, designed by Anick La Bissonière, is impressive and effective, particularly due to its incorporation of large mirrors in one act. The bursts of music that come with entrances and transitions are well-suited to the style of Marivaux, contributing both to the comedy and the authenticity of the performance.
This latest production at the Centaur proves that the old classics can still be fun and easy to love when done properly. While this play may not be the most serious or realistically performed, it is a mix of clever language tricks and commedia dell’arte at its rollicking best.