"Game of Love and Chance" brings 18th century wit to 21st century stage

This weekend sees the opening of professor Randy Kaplan's latest impressive School of the Arts production, "Game of Love and Chance," by the 18th century French writer Pierre Marivaux.

The show's program describes it best as a work "known for [its] comic air and interest in romantic love." Indeed, "Game of Love and Chance" makes heavy use of the classic theatrical elements of identity changes, mixed-up lovers, defiance of the social classes and much more; all of which combine for a night theatrical amusement.

Set in France during the 1700s, the plot focuses on a young noblewoman named Sylvia, played by senior Linda Freund. Alumnus Drew Zantopp plays Sylvia's father Orgon, who wishes to marry her to his best friend's son, Dorante (senior Emily Upham) who is coming to visit.

Curious if his gentlemanly behavior will just be an act for her benefit or if he really is a kind man, Sylvia requests to switch places with her chambermaid, Lisette, played by junior Chiara Guardo, so that she can observe him from a distance before making a decision about their marriage.

Orgon concedes, however Dorante has had a similar notion and switches places with his valet, Harlequin (freshman Brian Clemente). Thus, chaos ensues as the lovers meet and struggle quite humorously with their assumptions about class, wealth, birth and the wills of their own hearts.

Upham, the only female playing a male role in the show, does an excellent job carrying herself with the bearing and grace of an 18th century French gentleman.

Additionally, Clemente is hilarious as the pompous and showboating valet disguised as his master. His overly theatrical speeches and comedic vocal intonations regularly elicited chuckles from viewers.

The complicated language of the show speaks to the skills of its cast members. Not only is the language quite antiquated, but the lines are actually a result of a translation by translator Stephen Wadsworth from the original French, according to the program, thus adding to the potential for line complications.

In addition, the use of era-appropriate costumes including corsets for Freund and Guardo add some difficulty to the performances.

Costume designer and assistant professor Crystal Ferrell noted that the authentic corsets cost "over $500," and proved a challenge for the girls to learn to walk, sit and dance in. Both Freund and Guardo, however, do impressive jobs making their movements seem easy and fluid while onstage.

The set of the show is equally impressive, as is the ornate and well-planned costumes, which add to the overall grandeur of "Game of Love and Chance."

Featuring large pillars done in a pink marble-looking material, beautifully painted garden hedges and vibrant ivy clinging to trellises, the set is certainly a noteworthy creation of professor Steven Stubblefield and his stage crew.

The degree of detail in the construction and performance of "Game of Love and Chance" attests to Ferrell's assurance that the show has been "almost a year in the making."

Kaplan said she chose to direct the lighthearted show because, "Once every 10 years I need a season of comedies - a season of laughing. We haven't done a piece like this as a department in 20 years. [It is] really important for university students to experience a period play [such as this one.]"

"Game of Love and Chance" is playing March 4 through March 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday March 8 at 2 p.m. in the Alice Austin Theatre of Brodie Hall. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at bbo.geneseo.edu.