COUNTERFEIT SECRETS by Marivaux, translated and directed by John Van Burek, with Arsinée Khanjian, Andrew Pifko, Xuan Fraser, Dawn Greenhalgh, Thomas Hauff, Peter Haworth, Julie LeGal and William Webster. Presented by Pleiades at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to May 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1 pm, Saturday 4 pm and Sunday 2:30 pm. $25-$35, Sunday pwyc, stu/srs discounts. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
The comedies of 18th-century French playwright Marivaux take prismatic looks at the various stratagems required to arouse and sustain love. Translator/director John Van Burek has made something of a cottage industry out of reviving Marivaux's elegant works, but Counterfeit Secrets doesn't shine as it should.
At its centre is Araminte (Arsine Khanjian), a rich widow who's persuaded by her wily servant Dubois (Xuan Fraser) to fall for Dubois's former and now impecunious master, Dorante (Andrew Pifko), introduced into her household by his lawyer uncle (William Webster).
Sometimes fitting into and sometimes hampering Dubois's plot are the maid Marton (Julie LeGal), Araminte's social snob of a mother (Dawn Greenhalgh) and the count (Peter James Haworth) who hopes to wed her.
Played out against Andjelija Djuric's bright geometric designs, lit warmly by Paul Mathiesen, the plot leaps from one twist to another, with Dubois holding all the strings.
Fraser's seductive, manipulating, sometimes bullying Dubois, complete with a fine comic style and a killer smile, keeps the tale spinning, while LeGal's infatuated Marton wrings every bit of emotion from her role. She glows with a special something that draws the eye even when she's off to the side of the action. Others get their share of laughs, though there's the occasional touch of blandness in the production.
The biggest problem is Khanjian. She may offer nuanced work onscreen, but onstage she conveys no depth. Anger, love, giddiness and deflation all come out vocally and emotionally the same -- superficial and flat. Only in the final few scenes with Pifko does her work deepen to become both touching and comic, but that's too late to make us care for a character who should play like quicksilver.