Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
The things we do for love. According to La seconde surprise de l’amour (The Second Surprise of Love), the path to love is paved with machinations, and any scheme will do. Subterfuge, stratagems and seduction take centre stage in this sparkling 18th-Century comedy by Pierre de Marivaux, which launches Théâtre Français de Toronto’s new season, directed by Artistic Director Joël Beddows.
The play has its roots in farce and commedia dell’arte, and revolves around parallel upstairs-downstairs romances. The Marquise (played by Karine Ricard) is widowed a month into her marriage. Inconsolable, she swears off love and devotes herself to a life of dreary contemplation. She goes as far as to employ Hortensius, a pedantic scholar (Pierre Simpson) to read her somber philosophical passages to captivate her misery. As it happens, her next-door neighbour Chevalier (Nabil Traboulsi) is likewise inconsolable after learning that his lover has left him for a nunnery. He, too, has spurned love and prepares to leave Paris for the soothing comforts of his birthplace. The misanthropes bask in their sorrows and commit to honouring their respective hurts. Meanwhile, the Marquise’s maid Lisette (Patricia Marceau) has fallen for Chevalier’s valet Lubin (Nicolas Van Burek), and plots to bring The Marquise and Chevalier together, so that she may then marry the man she loves. However, a Count (Manuel Verreydt) emerges to throw a wrench into her plan. Can Lisette maneuver sundry lies, denials, misunderstandings, and jealousies into a happy ending? The plot sounds like a typically elaborate drawing-room farce . . . but (to evoke the anthemic theme song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) “the situation is a lot more nuanced than that”.
Ms Ricard, who takes on the role of the heartbroken Marquise, is a familiar face on stage as well as the small screen, in both English and French productions. The appeal of the project for her is its classical roots. Performing older material is “just fun,” and allows the performers to “glimpse a bit of history [and] to see what themes arise during production”: “We see a vision of our future from the past, and we can remark on what Marivaux can tell us about ourselves today.”
The Marquise is a woman of the monarchy. As such, she is “smart, well spoken and aware of the injustice between men and women of the time”. She is also “struggling to keep her independence in the world of men, in that certain societal expectations are driving against her own better judgement and what’s in her heart.” In the Marquise’s world, her reputation is fighting against the overlay of multiple social constructs. In her approach to portraying the Marquise, Ms Ricard is striving for truth in her actions and convictions, in order to bring the “complexity of her character to light amongst the torrent of scrutiny she is under”.
Marivaux is known for exploring romantic relationships in his plays through the binary theme of appearance vs. truth, and the rupture of pretence by truth, in order to reveal underlying true feelings. According to a note in the TfT program, the term marivaudage was coined to describe the “exaggerated and affected banter” that was characteristic of Marivaux’s writing, and often deemed frivolous. Peering through the witticisms, La seconde surprise de l’amour reveals a sympathetic take on the female experience and the ability of women to decide and act on their truth. “There is a particular moment in the play where the Marquise acknowledges her predicament in a very sober way,” notes Ms Ricard. “There’s an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of her position, and she’s done with it. She wants to be able to design her own way out, and not be guided by what is expected of her.”
In Ms Ricard’s view, many aspects of this play should resonate with audiences, who should readily find contemporary parallels – particularly since the production has opted for current-era stage and costume design (both by Mélanie McNeill). “Many things have changed since Marivaux wrote this play, and yet a lot of things haven’t,” Ms Ricard muses. “I think what we should question is, ‘how are things, really? Do we have equality? What does that really mean? Or do we want partnership?’ ” Generally speaking, she feels that our feelings tend to “become diluted,” with people falling on opposing sides of such questions: “We have built up our society with laws and policies to govern, but at home, we just have each other.”
291 years after it was first staged in 1727, this Marivaux classic enjoys only infrequent revivals in the original French and in English translation. In fact, this French-language production marks the 3rd time that TfT has staged a Marivaux play in 50 years. While they are afforded this rare opportunity, Toronto audiences are advised to relish this special recipe of inimitable marivaudage folded cleverly into the timeless arc of women struggling with type, convention and free will – and leavened by much laughter.
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What: La seconde surprise de l’amour (The Second Surprise of Love) by Pierre de Marivaux (performed in French); Produced by Théâtre Français de Toronto; Directed by Joël Beddows
Featuring: Patricia Marceau (Lisette), Karine Ricard (La marquise), Pierre Simpson (M. Hortensius), Nabil Traboulsi (Le chevalier), Nicolas Van Burek (Lubin), Manuel Verreydt (Le comte)
Who: Audiences 12 years of age and older
When: October 17 – 28, 2018, evening and matinee performances; Running Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
*Wednesday and Thursday: Pay What You Can
*Saturday Rush Tickets: $20
Where: Berkeley Street Theatre – Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: theatrefrancais.com
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal Sesaya/SesayArts Magazine