The False Servant

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Evidence Room, the company has chosen to produce Marivaux’s The False Servant in a contemporary translation by Martin Crimp. Like all of Marivaux’s plays, the stylized, commedia influenced plot is an excuse to plumb the psychological undercurrents of society, particularly the emotions, or lack thereof, surrounding love.

The Chevalier (Chastity Dotson) is a rich Parisian woman who disguises herself as a man in order to discern the true nature of Lelio (Christian Leffler), a potential husband. She quickly discovers that Leilo is a heartless seducer who is already betrothed to the Countess (Dorie Barton). When Leilo realizes that there are richer fish in the sea, he encourages the Chevalier to seduce the Countess so that he can free himself from the betrothal contract with minimal financial damage. Their machinations are further complicated by a trio of greedy servants, Trivelin (Barry Del Sherman), Frontin (Cody Chappel) and Arlequin (Mathew Bazulka).

The False Servant has little of the melancholy humanity that permeates Marivaux’s most famous play, The Game of Love and Chance. And Crimp’s blunt, earthy translation does nothing to soften the characters. Their schemes and lies may provoke laughter, but they also leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The show begins with Chappel growling out Cole Porter’s “What is this Thing Called Love?” And, with it, director Bart DeLorenzo clearly announces his corrosive take on the material.  DeLorenzo’s spare aesthetic is exemplified by a stage bare of anything but Frederica Nacimento’s subtly twisted staircase. The company will spend the performance climbing up and down those stairs, jockeying for position. The stairs will also form the background for DeLorenzo’s most lucidly potent image—a silent denouement where the shell-shocked characters attempt to understand what they’ve lived through and, perhaps, find a way to go on.

The cast contains many Evidence Room veterans who look terrific in Leah Pehl’s witty, post-modern take on period costumes. Dotson’s Chevalier nimbly navigates her gender duality and manages to keep a step ahead of Leffler’s appropriately disreputable Lelio. Barton’s Countess proves a master of timing as well navigating her male-dominated society. Del Sherman makes an affably calculating and loquacious Trivelin, while Bazulka’s high-energy avarice is a comic highlight. Chappel’s dim Frontin makes an early exit, but he returns to serenade us at odd intervals.

Odyssey Theatre    July 11 – September 6, 2015