A brash 17th century farce seems a fitting end to Canadian Stage's 2011/2012 season—which shows just how far Matthew Jocelyn has taken the company.
The Game of Love and Chance is a 300-year-old farce made up of arranged marriages, mistaken identities, class dynamics, entrances and exits, and, as the title suggests, romance and risk. Plus some split leaps and pratfalls for good measure.
After a season of mostly heavy, conceptual theatre and dance works about politics and culture, Canadian Stage ended its 2011/2012 season on Thursday with Marivaux’s classic in a contemporary English adaptation and translation by Nicolas Billon. In theory, it’s a choice that’s out of left field. But with the direction of Matthew Jocelyn, the company’s polarizing artistic director, think again.
The set by Anick La Bissonnière is a bold, large-scale arrangement of white, red, and metallic accents, with an elaborate chandelier focal point—all of which have been seen on the Bluma Appel stage before. Though Game is lighter in tone than many of the company’s recent productions, there is still more emphasis on direction, design, and acting style here than on intricate plotline.
Most of all, the production is in keeping with Jocelyn’s decidedly alternative take on programming, which emphasizes giving Toronto audiences entirely new and challenging theatrical experiences on one of the city’s largest stages.
In the opinions of some (arguably most), Jocelyn has been faltering. And certainly, The Game of Love and Chance isn’t a perfect production—and it’s far from the best that Canadian Stage has presented this season. Even so, the crowd at Thursday’s opening was a relatively young and enthusiastic one.
The show itself, on the other hand, had trouble matching that energy for its 90-minute duration. At the start, a modern-minded noblewoman Silvia (Trish Lindstrom) is about to meet her potential husband-to-be for the first time. She devises a plan with her quivering maid Lisette (Gemma James-Smith), her sweet-toothed brother Mario (Zach Fraser), and her clever father Monsieur Orgon (William Webster, away from his usual spot on Soulpepper programs) to better observe his natural character. She and Lisette will switch places, but little do they know that the suitor, Durante (Harry Judge), and his attendant Arlequino (Gil Garratt) have planned the same scenario. You know the drill—chaos ensues as romance blossoms between Silvia and Durante, and Lisette and Arlequino, and it all builds up to a happy ending (or is it so happy?).
Lindstrom and James-Smith command the opening scene from opposite ends of the stage, as they articulate their characters’ opposing views of courtship and marriage. Upon the arrival of Durante (under the alias “Bourguignon”) and his fur-stole-clad attendant, the game is afoot—and so is Garratt, who begins what amounts to 70 straight minutes of calisthenics, as he struts, jumps, and bends his way around the stage.
Unfortunately, as rousing as these antics are at first, the actors seem to tire of them, and so does the audience. James-Smith’s girly shimmies and Garratt’s Energizer bunny physicality (impressive though it is) start to seem gimmicky. Judge and Lindstrom, whose characters are supposedly rational, fall victim to this too. Webster and Fraser, as puppeteers of the whole ordeal, are helpful anchors.
Some may argue that now is not the time for a comedy that hinges on the idea of arranged marriages and false pretenses, but that argument is neither here nor there (show me a romantic encounter today that doesn’t involve at least one false pretense). Jocelyn even adds a sour note at the end to suit our more modern, cynical tastes. He had a vision, and wasn’t afraid to take up the entire Bluma stage with it. He might not have succeeded entirely, but hey, he took a chance.