Also see Fred's review of Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah
Jedediah Ike creates an absolutely white setting for the play which occurs during the eighteenth century in France's countryside. It looks as if the designer has taken a huge pair of scissors and fashioned cut-out forms which stand as backing for the performers. The visual, even before a word is uttered, is stunning. Many of the actors, as costumed by Joshua Pearson, are also in white. The stage itself is deep, and a becoming pool of water rests on the very front of the performance space.
Prince (Grant Goodman) and Hermianne (Kate MacCluggage), obviously upper echelon aristocrats, provide a conversational introduction to the piece. Years before, the prince's father initiated an experiment to determine this: Would a man or woman commit a first violate fidelity to a partner? A young, sensationally radiant young woman named Églé (Kaliswa Brewster) appears and is thrilled with her own appearance as she discovers just what she looks like through a reflection in the stream, small photo image, and mirror. Azor (Jeffrey Omura) arrives and Églé assumes this person to be another "she." Églé and Azor are joined by two others. All of them have been deliberately shielded from the world and, in this regard, they are innocents. Adine (Mahira Kakkar) and Mesrin (Philippe Bowgen) are also quite appealing individuals. None of them are socially schooled. Meanwhile, the Prince and Hermianne observe what ensues from a landing which is a level above.
The young people have been controlled and raised separately, by gender. Noble servants Carise (Kate Forbes) and Mesrou (David Manis) has been on hand as the youthful ones have grown and come of age. La Dispute is about love, lust, jealousy, narcissism, and social class, too. The final moments of the play radically alter the atmosphere and it is difficult to ascertain Marivaux's intent. Tresnjak, a director who pays deserved attention to detail, completely alters tone with a jarring, jolting conclusion.
This presentation benefits from most impressive and even exciting production values. For example: when we listen to a harpsichord, the music, through Jane Shaw's sound design, is a delight. For the most part, bright lighting hues are employed. When the director wishes for a shift to pink/red, the choice is excellent and the delivery perfect. Each moment counts.
A quartet of vibrant young actors whose very beings seem to throb with some combination of passion, desire, and even curiosity, elevate the show. Brewster, as Églé, is the first of the four to take the stage and she cannot get enough of herself; still, she is charming.
She and Kakkar's Adine take to physical grappling. Women, then, are presented in a less than becoming mode while the men are exclusively dominated with a magnetic attraction to the opposite sex. Mesrin and Azor are not nearly so vexed by one another as are the women. In this regard, one might allege that Marivaux presents females as envious if not nasty. Every one of them seeks pleasure and all are agitated in the quest to fulfill primal needs.
This is a classical play and, from time to time, feels very Frenchgiven the wardrobe of, especially, Hermianne and the Prince. With that restrictive clothing, how could anyone possibly navigate even a few paces? La Dispute is clever and penetrating, so to speak. The thematic meaning of its ending is open to both question and further analysis.
La Dispute continues at Hartford Stage through November 10th. For tickets, visit www.hartfordstage.org or call (860) 527-5151.
- Fred Sokol