The Game of Love and Chance
Also see Susan's report on The 2006 Helen Hayes Awards
The first indication of the direction in which director Richard Clifford will lead the company comes from Tony Cisek's fantastic set, all sinuously curving staircases painted a vivid green and a topiary tree growing out of an upholstered bench. Stephen Wadsworth's vernacular translation and adaptation brings the 18th-century setting into modern terms.
The plot involves the romantic deceptions of Silvia (Tymberlee Chanel) and Dorante (Matthew Montelongo) who are preparing to meet for the first time. Their fathers are friends who hope the couple will like each other well enough to marry, but Silvia wants an unguarded look at the man first. As she explains to her high-spirited maid, Lisette (Tonya Beckman Ross), many men who seem ideal in public are cruel or at least thoughtless in private. Silvia suggests that she and Lisette disguise themselves in each other's clothes, allowing Silvia to watch Dorante as he gets to know the disguised Lisette.
The complication – known, but kept secret, by Silvia's father (Timmy Ray James) and brother (James O. Dunn) – is that Dorante has had the same idea independently, and has switched identities with his valet, Harlequin (Ian Merrill Peakes). The modest, well-spoken "valet," who calls himself Bourguignon, finds himself enchanted with (as he thinks) a mere servant, while Lisette is bowled over by an effusive "gentleman" who knows as little about courtly manners as she does.
The complications are obvious from this description, but that makes them no less entertaining as portrayed here. (For that matter, British playwright Oliver Goldsmith was probably familiar with this play when he wrote She Stoops to Conquer, which has similarities in the plot, in 1773.)
The showiest performance is that of Peakes', last seen at the Folger as the scheming, hypocritical "moralist" Angelo in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Harlequin is a polar opposite to that role, everything on the surface and plainly written on his face, and Peakes makes the most of it as he bellows, waves his arms in elaborate semaphores he mistakes for elegant bows, and generally seizes attention whenever he appears.
Ross is almost (but not quite) equally bumptious, doing her best to be "ladylike" in a gown with enormous, multi-colored rosettes on her hips. (Kate Turner-Walker's costumes take on a character of their own.) They are well matched in their exuberance, as are Chanel and Montelongo as their more refined employers, and the more sanguine James and sneakily amused Dunn.