Triumph of Love
Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington is celebrating the arrival of spring with the musical Triumph of Love. The work by James Magruder (book), Jeffrey Stock (music), and Susan Birkenhead (lyrics), based on an 18th-century play by Pierre Marivaux, seems like it should be a lighter-than-air confection, with its disguises and assumed identities, but it remains earthbound. (This sort of thing can succeed brilliantly; the Shakespeare Theatre Company's current production of The Liar is everything this production is not.)
Maybe this musical needs an outstanding cast to flourish: F. Murray Abraham and Betty Buckley headlined its brief Broadway run in 1997. Director Clay Hopper has done a capable job and the cast members work hard, but that's part of the problem: gender-bending farce must seem effortless to succeed.
The setting is the isolated garden where Hermocrates (Stephen F. Schmidt) and his sister Hesione (Helen Hedman), philosophers and ascetics, live with their nephew Agis (Jake Odmark). Agis, the exiled prince of Sparta, has spent his life preparing to assassinate Princess Léonide (Patricia Hurley), whose family usurped the throne from his. Léonide knows nothing about that; she only knows that she loves Agis and will do anything to capture his heart. To do so, she and her maid Corine (Andrea Andert) dress as men and enter the cloistered world of reason, where the residents shun the madness of love.
The best performances are the broadest: Andert as a "boy" who clearly prefers being a girl; J.J. Kaczynski as Harlequin, once a jester and now a servant; and Lawrence Redmond as the grungy gardiner Dimas. Hurley is lovely and winsome, but she never conveys the force of personality that could ignite the romantic passions of several people of both sexes, and Odmark makes little impression. Schmidt and Hedman have done much better work elsewhere, although their ultimate transformation is amusing.
The fanciful attitude missing from the performances and direction is evident in the technical side of the production. Cristina Todesco has devised a tiered garden and a sunburst backdrop created from clusters of sunflowers; Pei Lee's costumes shift from the philosophers' austere grays and blacks to Léonide's gown overrun by heavy red ruffles and petticoats in cotton-candy colors; and Mark Lanks' lighting design periodically conveys the characters' emotional upheaval by shifting the sky into unlikely colors.
Olney Theatre Center