You've heard of Moliere and Beaumarchais. Now get ready for Marivaux. Judging from The Game Of Love And Chance, a frothy look at love, mistaken identity and the class struggle, the 18th-century French playwright deserves a wider audience.
In a clear, clever, but at times too colloquial new translation by director John Van Burek, the 90-minute play tells the story of two young aristocrats, Silvia (Amy Price-Francis) and Dorante (Graeme Somerville), who disguise themselves as their servants (Colombe Demers and Alex Poch-Goldin, respectively) to check the other out. Only Silvia's father Orgon (Oliver Dennis) and brother Mario (Scott Nichol) know of the double disguise.
Marivaux's look at the potentially superficial nature of love and attraction sounds some contemporary notes. But his statements about class -- that servants are vulgar and deserving of each other, for instance -- are harder to accept today.
What's missing is the kind of texture that would make this play not only entertaining but richly human. The characters exist only in the present. Where's Silvia's mom? What does Orgon think of his daughter's cynicism?
The talented actors do their best with what seems like a truncated text. Somerville, especially, suggests a heartbroken man struggling with affection, duty and jealousy. It's his heart that we hear beating strongest beneath Andjelija Djuric's period-on-a-budget costumes.
Price-Francis, given the most difficult and ambiguous role, has problems with tone, wavering between hysteria and egotism, and Dennis spends his time peeking into Djuric's simple yet elegant white set looking for a character to play.
But both Demers and Poch-Goldin seem to be having fun as the servants who play dress-up for a couple of hours. Their characters don't have the complexity of Beaumarchais's Figaro and Susanna, but they're not caricatures, either. Their declaration scene near the end is one of the play's most beautiful moments, showing that love without money or finery can still triumph.
You can say the same for this modest production.
THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHANCE, by Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, translated and directed by John Van Burek, with Colombe Demers, Oliver Dennis, Scott Nichol, Alex Poch-Goldin and Graeme Somerville. Presented by Pleiades Theatre at Artword Theatre (75 Portland). Runs to May 28, Tuesday-Saturday at 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$23, Sunday pwyc. 408-2783. Rating: NNN