The New York Classical Theatre Company stages all of its productions in Central Park. Not on a stage in Central Park, but in the park itself. The cast runs amok all over the park, dragging the audience with them. A heard of flashlight-wielding stage hands usher the audience along as the cast travels from one "Set" to the next. The natural topography of the park is used in lieu of actual set pieces, and the cast make their entrances from behind trees, bushes, and rocky outcropping. The audience is on its feet for most of the show but (mercifully) many of the playing areas are near park benches, allowing a portion of the crowd to sit down.
As with any outdoor production, Triumph of Love had to deal with the weather and other distractions. The show was besieged by animals, park department vehicles, and wandering vagrants. The well-disciplined cast dealt with all of this without being fazed and even used some of the disruptions to their advantage, such as when Joseph J. Menino made the funniest entrance ever when he was chased onstage by a pack of beagles (whose owner just happened to be walking by). The staff also proved to be highly organized when they dealt with a panhandling vagrant who interrupted the show.
The novelty of the roaming show is only one of the reasons why Triumph of Love was a pleasure to see. The play, written in 1720 by Pierre Marivaux, is a fun, gender-bending farce and was well-played by its zany cast. Marivaux's heroine, Princess Leonide (Jenn Shulte), falls in love with Agis (Shad Ramsey), a student of the famous philosopher Hermocrate (Curt Hostetter). For reasons too farcically complex to go into, Leonide and her maid Corine (Jenny Langsam) disguise themselves as men. The two "men" pass themselves off as philosophy students in order to sneak into the home of Hermocrate, and then proceed to seduce their way through Hermocrate's family and servants until they get to Agis.
Director Stephen Burdman got a lot of laughs out of the script, which was adapted and slightly modernized by Stephen Wadsworth. The cast, particularly Jeffrey M. Bender as Harlequin, also played up the farcical material to the full.
The outdoor setting made "real sets" difficult, but Burdman has learned how to use the natural surroundings to their greatest effect. Lighting (Gwen Grossman) was extremely limited because of the outdoor setting as well. The period costumes (Andrea Huelse) were excellent, and very necessary because of the cross-gender themes of the play. Speaking of which, the costumes were even used for some comedic bits like Harlequin's attempts to find the "front" of a four-corner hat.
Just as the audience stood on its feet during the performance, the play also stands on its own feet, without the need for the gimmick of the outdoor setting. But the outdoorsiness was a welcome change, and it's good exercise for people who spend too much time sitting on their buts in theatres.
(Also featuring Margaret Reed.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby