Trivial Dispute

By Geary Danihy

Hartford Stage is celebrating its 50th anniversary by presenting a repertory company in two plays, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Marivaux’s “La Dispute.”

“Marivaux? Who the hell is Marivaux?”

Well, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux was something of a hot ticket back when Louis XV sat on his somewhat shaky throne, circa 1740. He was a prominent playwright, journalist, novelist and essayist who managed to make an enemy of, among others, Voltaire, and wrote for both the Comedie-Francaise and the Comedie-Italienne of Paris.

“Yeah? So what?”

Well, among other things, Marivaux’s main subject in his novels and plays was the metaphysic of love-making.

“The what?”

What we do, say and think when we fall in and out of love.

“Oh, okay. So, what about this Dispute thing?”

Well, you see, this was also the Age of Enlightenment -- you know, Newton, Rousseau, the Encyclopedists -- and everyone was asking questions like why does an apple fall from a tree and do I exist because I think? At the same time, the fat cats liked to have garden parties, big parties with orchestras and pavilions and lots of flowers and bowers and...

“You’re not making any sense.”

Give me a chance. So Marivaux came up with this idea: what if there’s this garden party, or fete champetre, and a prince (Grant Goodman) and his mistress, Hermianne (Kate MacCluggage), are having an on-going argument about which sex is more inclined to infidelity.

“Why?”

Well, the French are concerned about things like that. In any event, the prince is inclined to agree with his lady that the male, given the gender’s inherent chemistry, will fall at a moment’s notice, but he suggests that the concept be put to a test (this being the Age of Enlightenment and all) and, fortunately, there are four young folks at hand to be put to use. You see, the prince’s father had acquired four babes, two males and two females, several decades ago and had them raised by two servants -- seeing no one else, never knowing that the world was larger than the four walls that enclosed them.

“You’re kidding me.”

Would I kid you? In any event, the prince orders these young folks to be released into the garden and...

“Like, it’s a Garden of Eden thing?”

Exactly -- very good -- so the prince and his mistress step back to watch what happens.

“Yeah, and what happens?”

Well, not a whole hell of a lot. Egle (Kaliswa Brewster) appears first, a young lady who is enamored of her own beauty. She’s transfixed by her reflection in a stream and, when presented with a mirror becomes rapturous. Next on the scene is Azor (Jeffrey Omura), who immediately falls in love with Egle, who confirms his decision -- after all, why shouldn’t he be totally absorbed by her? Ah, but there’s a snake or two in the grass.

“Yeah, the Garden of Eden thing.”

Okay, you’ve made your point. Adine (Mahira Kakkar) shows up, a young lady also transfixed by her own beauty (after all, there’s been no competition). There’s an extended ‘who’s the fairest of them all’ scene that is ended when Mesrin (Philippe Bowgen) appears on the scene, the fourth sheltered child (whom Adine loves -- how she met him is never explained). Egle sees Mesrin and falls in love with him. Oh, the angst, the agony. Egle wants them both -- she wants it all. The dear girl just adores being adored.

To say this is all a tempest in a teapot or the lightest of French confections is to give it greater weight than it deserves. Stylishly directed by Darko Tresnjak, the Stage’s artistic director, and handsomely lit by Matthew Richards, the play, which runs only 70 minutes, seems to float on gossamer clouds of cotton candy. There is simply no bite to it and scant wit. This ain’t no “Les Liasons Dangereuses.”

That the two young women adore themselves is established early and then milked for all it’s worth; that the two young men are slaves to their libidos is, well, a given, and not much of a revelation.

“So, who wins the argument?”

It’s a draw, to be continued. You see, there are these four babies...

“Babies? Where did they come from?”

You don't know where babies come from? In any event, the girls fight, the guys fight, and, in the end, they are all left to their own devices, facing a world they are ill prepared for.

“So, it’s kinda existential?”

Yeah, you might say that.

“I just did.”

Yes, you did.

“La Dispute” runs through November 10. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordstage.org

 

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