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[whitespace] 'Triumph of Love'
Go Cheeseheads: Harlequin (Kirk Herring) makes like an 18th-century Green Bay Packers fan, to the amusement of Corinne (C. Kelly Wright) and Dimas (Patrick Flick).

Age of Teasin'

TheatreWorks triumphs with a witty retooling of an 18th-century classic

By Michael J. Vaughn

POWERED BY AN absolutely irresistible performance by Debra Wiseman, TheatreWorks' Triumph of Love takes a classic 1732 comedy by Marivaux and gives it a sexy, anachronistic spin. The show, created by James Magruder (book), Jeffrey Stock (music) and Susan Birkenhead (lyrics), had its 1997 debut swamped out by The Lion King and Ragtime, but I'm sure I would have preferred it over either.

Marivaux's tale is a witty dialectic between love and reason--and you can probably guess which one wins. It's set in a garden retreat where a usurped prince, Agis (Jonathan Rhys Williams), has been raised by his severely logical aunt and uncle to one day assassinate the Spartan princess Leonide and regain his rightful place on the throne.

Problem is, Leonide herself (Wiseman) has infiltrated the grounds and fallen in love with Agis. Determined to win his affections, she disguises herself as a man, Phocion, befriends Agis, then manages to make both aunt Hesione (Livia Genise) and uncle Hermocrates (Steven Patterson) fall in love with her, changing gender and personae whenever necessary.

Big chore, this all-things-to-all-lovers task, but Wiseman--well-remembered for her performance as Violet in TheatreWorks' 1998 production of Side Show--is well up to it. No matter which alias she's working under, Wiseman is exceedingly sexy and fun to watch, equipping each of her roles with a choreography of quirky, compelling gestures.

Operating under a production concept by the gender-bender master himself, local director Danny Scheie, costumer Fumiko Bielefeldt delivers mixed visual signals all evening long, capped by the outlandish all-white get-ups of aunt and uncle--hers from 1950s America, his from 18th-century France--that declare the final leaving of their senses.

Magruder's book makes no bones about the story's sexuality, either, throwing in a double entendre here ("Shouldn't you be waxing your cannon?"), a dirty pun there ("How do I know you're not a gay deceiver?"), just to keep us on our toes. Composer Stock, meanwhile, rambles all over the place, proceeding in the course of one song, "Mr. Right," through soul, bossa nova and swing, and later paying calls on neoclassical, vaudeville, Sondheim-style Broadway recitative, and tango. (The latter, "The Bond That Can't Be Broken," also features some tasty choreography from Donna Cerio.)

The cast is well-stocked with superb voices, notably Williams' tenor, Patterson's rich baritone, and Genise's poignant reading of Hesione's regret-laden "Serenity." A layer of light commedia dell'arte humor is provided by the servants, Corinne (C. Kelly Wright), Harlequin (Kirk Herring) and Dimas (Patrick Flick).

Set in classical Greek locales, costumed in fashions both 18th-century French and 20th-century American, garnished with botanical products of all shapes and sizes, Triumph of Love will leave you not knowing precisely where you are--but then, love often does that. In their attention to detail and rhythm, director Robert Kelley and his troops have lavished much love on this production as well, and come out with a frothy, sophisticated and eminently enjoyable confection.

Triumph of Love plays at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm (plus Dec. 16 at 2pm), Sunday at 2pm, (plus Dec. 17 at 7pm) through Dec. 31 (no performance Dec. 24). Tickets are $20-$38. (650.903.6000)

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From the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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