If you like offbeat comedy, take in The Game of Love and Chance, a 1730 work by Pierre de Marivaux, in a modern translation and adaptation by Stephen Wadsworth. It is a farce that, even as farce, director Dan Hodge of Hedgerow Theatre refuses to take seriously.
Marivaux’s Game is a classic tangle of mistaken identities. Madame Orgon orders daughter Silvia to marry a man she never met. To find out about him, Silvia disguises herself by trading places with her maid, Lisette. Turns out swain Dorante has the same misgivings, and he swaps places with his valet, Harlequin. Four false identities. Will true love prevail?
Sebastian Kearney’s set is a sprawling salon with a huge stairway of which Silvia (cute, vivacious Stephanie Hodge) uses every inch. But hers is not the movement of a soul in serious agitation, as Hodge’s pert pantomime tells you with a wink and a nod.
Harlequin is still more over-the-top. Masquerading as Dorante, Mark Swift is full of exaggerated pratfalls you can only associate with the commedia dell’arte trickster. As if that were not enough, costume designer Elizabeth Hanson dresses this make-believe Dorante in an ill-fitting, clownish suit.
Director Hodge does not intend for you to believe deeply in either Silvia or Harlequin. While that is partly what Marivaux does as well, it has limits: The more they are played “just for laughs,” the more they stop functioning as characters, even in the farce domain. As funhouse antics parody the story, you lose sight of Marivaux’s ideas.
In the play, Marivaux portrays love triumphing over class, wealth, and parental authority; its irrational power to do precisely that allows the satire to sink its teeth into social pretense. When Harlequin poses as aristocratic Dorante, for example, Marivaux mocks the foppery of the landed gentry, at the same time satirizing the commoner who yearns to emulate their foolishness.
None of that comes across here. Hedgerow goes for laughs, and other characters deepen the feeling of vaudevillian comedy. Madame Orgon (Hedgerow veteran Susan Wefel) is amusingly distant from her own plotting. Son Mario (Christopher Waters) is her loutish, lounge-about accomplice. Lisette (needy, seductive Julianne Schaub) has lots of comic pantomime of her own.
Distressed, ardent Dorante (Kevin Aoussou) stands alone in marivaudage style (originally, a disparaging term for a character who confesses to innermost needs with mannered language). But you do not take Dorante seriously, either, because his toying tormentor Silvia is always so near to breaking the fourth wall.
The Hedgerow show may not be the best way to present Game, yet it succeeds on its own terms. The production is distinctively comic. Using two intermissions makes the three short acts feel still more lighthearted. The actors are engaging cutups, and it is winning as campy, de facto parody.