With their production of Pierre Marivaux’s 18th Century romantic comedy The Dispute, the National Asian American Theater Company offers a superbly acted and highly entertaining piece.
A prince reveals to his lover a game wherein the infidelities of each sex will be tested and explored. Eighteen years prior his father had the same dispute his lover, and so he set about to raise four people (two men and two women) each in isolation, until they would one day be introduced to one another in a perfect garden. What ensues tests both the prince’s and our ideas about love, identity and fidelity.
Neil Bartlett’s translation of Marivaux’s original is fresh and simple, capturing a provincial quality that belies the wicked humor it has been coupled with. In addition, Bartlett’s translation carefully skates around antiquity, giving the Marivaux’s piece a fable-like quality.
An exquisitely playful cast makes the proceedings a delight to watch. Bringing depth and wry humor to what could be dangerously simple lines; the cast members climb about the playground of a set with childlike abandon. There is surprising tenderness when the sheltered youths enter the garden for the first time, and lay their eyes on ’the world.’ Similarly, to share with these characters the joy of self-discovery and personal revelation is no small feat. Because the assembled cast relishes the work at hand, the audience is transported into a voyeuristic world where we can laugh not only at the folly of youth, but our own as well.
When the wide-eyed Egle, played by Jennifer Chang, first sees her reflection in a puddle and discovers her own beauty there is a ridiculous honesty in her reaction that we cannot help but recognize. Sound directorial choices by Jean Randich aid in giving the production a contemporary feel, while still keeping the tradition of the piece and its history secure. When Egle and her rival Adine experience their images in a small mirror, we are reminded that vanity is deeply rooted and thriving in today’s culture as much as it was in 1744.
The fine cast makes their way through the evening offering unblemished performances. Though they each represent the same basic idea, their differences of personality and point of view is not only striking, but genius work. Olivia Oguma as Adine is the perfect foil for Jennifer Chang’s Egle; each may fancy themselves as the object of perfection but they secretly despise and fear the other’s intentions. Likewise the men: Alexis Camins as Azor and Lanny Joon as Mesrin follow their lust like children gazing through the windows of a toy store.
It is here that Marivaux and the creative team at NAATCO prove their meddle. To a degree, there always will be a battle of the sexes; and we will always oversimplify the actions and motives of the other sex to make some sense of it all. But by placing these unsophisticated characters in the midst of the game of love without warning, is the making of fine comedy. A wonderful evening of summer theater, both enchanting and intoxicating, The Dispute is the perfect offering for these hot August nights.
Scheduled August 4 through August 26, performances of THE DISPUTE now runs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 7pm & 9:30pm; Saturdays at 3pm & 7:30pm; and Sundays at 3pm (with the exception of Friday, August 11 which will only perform at 7:30pm) at the Abingdon Theatre (312 West 36th Street). Tickets are $19 and can be reserved by visiting www.SmartTix.com or by calling 212-868-4444. For additional details, please visit www.naatco.org.