Imposter as Hero

The Trials of Martin Guerre

Written by Frank Cossa
Directed by Mark Bloom
The Deptford Players
New 42nd St. Theatre
348 W. 42nd St. (666-6509)
(closes Nov. 20 [followed by Off-Broadway engagement])
Equity showcase
Review by Jillian Perlberger

Frank Cossa's play, a dramatization of events that actually took place in
16th-century France, raises questions that go to the core of identity. Who
is an individual, really, and to what extent is that predestined? Is it a
worse crime to create a full and meaningful life that goes against the
mandates of society and religion, or to go through life without questioning
such mandates? A man returns after a long absence to his village and is
welcomed by his wife and neighbors. Then questions begin to arise as to
whether he is, indeed, the man he claims to be. His relatives, who stand to
gain if he is exposed as an imposter, denounce him and prompt an inquiry and
two trials. His wife, who loves the man who returned as she never did the
man who went away, cleaves to him. The play reveals, by the end, who is who
and who knew it all along. But the question of what motivated the players,
and whether they were wrong, is left to the audience to ponder.

The story lends itself beautifully to such thought-provoking questions, and
Cossa's play does a fine job of presenting and exploring them through vivid
and compelling characters, a nice balance of expository dialogue and
dramatic action, and a masterful weaving of personal quandaries and larger
political and theological issues, both specific to the era (one of
controversial Protestant insurgence) and timeless.

Director Mark Bloom brought out fine performances all round. Thomas McCann,
as the portentous yet thoughtful Ferrieres who alternately participated in
(as the Crown's representative at court) and narrated the story, had
wonderful stage presence and polish that lent gravitas to the production.
Joseph Kamal, in the pivotal role of Jean de Coras, a leading magistrate of
the day who tried the case with unusually deep involvement and interest,
gave an appropriately intense, if not entirely passionate, performance.
Jeff Berry, as the putative Martin Guerre, combined strength with
tenderness, and brazen duplicity with emotional honesty, to create a
believably complex central character. Susan E. Matus shone as Bertrande,
the wife of Martin Guerre, expressively (though with few words) conveying
her struggle between passion and fear and her intuitive understanding of
things supposedly beyond the scope of peasants' concerns. Dudley Stone, as
the town's priest, was particularly good as a dogged, didactic, unwittingly
ridiculous man of the cloth. H. Clark Kee as Pierre Guerre, the denouncing
uncle; Lorree True as Jeanne de Guerre, Pierre's wife; and Eric Hanson, as
the man claiming to be the real Martin Guerre, all gave solid and highly
watchable performances, as did Peter J. Coriaty, Rachel Lyerla, and
Christian Todd as the villagers.

The intermittent flashback scenes, in which the actors pantomimed
particularly violent or strange episodes, were occasionally confusing. At
times it was unclear what was happening; at other times, it was unclear why
something we already knew about was being reenacted. Regardless of their
dramatic merit of these scenes, their music (by Arhoolie Productions, Inc.)
and lighting were effective in conveying the moods and creating the

The costumes (designed by Billye Roberts) and set (designed by director Mark
) were very effective, suggesting much with little. At times, the
actors called attention to this minimalism, such as in the first moments
when they came on stage out of character and self-consciously played with
props and got into costume. Perhaps this was intended to make the audience
think about why the performers were choosing to reenact this particular
story for us, rather than accept it unquestioningly. A good idea, but, in
execution, too cloying. Fortunately, the performances that followed were
strong enough to override this weak opening note.
Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Jillian Perlberger