The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, February 23, 2007, Arts

La Dispute

Preas Theatre at Austin High School, through Feb. 24

Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min

Ah, l'amour. It rolls from the tongue, touches the lips, and finishes like a deep sigh. If you let it stroke your ear and hold your attention, it conjures images so deeply personal, so individual, that it seems to defy understanding.

So of course it's the subject of endless debate, and it is at the heart of the debate in this Marivaux comedy. Well, debate is perhaps naming it liberally. The premise of the story is that four children, two boys and two girls, have been raised in total isolation from one another by a prince, and that the prince then allows them to meet in order to see which sex is more fickle, more apt to choose a new love over an old. Now, I see some problems with this scenario, and they begin and end with any prince raising children in isolation for any reason. But hey, it's an 18th century French comedy; I would even go so far as to say it's an 18th century French sex comedy. I don't think we need to get weighted down with moral issues.

This Capital T Theatre production certainly isn't weighted down. In the end, it's light as a feather and in some ways just as beautiful. When you first enter the theatre, you are confronted with a good-sized heart made of apples in the center of the stage. Then, for a full 10 minutes, there is what may be best described as a chase. It's possible that it was intended as a dumb show – a playing out of the story, minus the words – but mostly it looks like a chase, and while it's an energetic and sometimes interesting chase, accompanied by music, there isn't a lot of variety to it, and it's difficult to follow what's happening. And unfortunately, the first scene, in which the prince sets up the story, doesn't work because the text is delivered with little energy or commitment.

However, we and director Mark Pickell are lucky; the show isn't about a dumb show or the first scene. The show is about the young lovers who meet for the first time and are immediately smitten with each other, and Alyssa Ramirez, Laura Cheek, Michael Fudge, and Chase Wooldridge as the lovers are just plain funny. Both Wooldridge and Fudge look like huge puppies, dashing, prancing, and rolling about the stage, drooling and breathless when first sighting a female. When the two meet, they're almost as attracted to each other as they are to the women, engaging in physical horseplay that is eminently watchable. The women are entirely self-centered, so much so that one of them doesn't see a problem if both men love her and neither loves her counterpart. These four, especially Fudge and Wooldridge, give such effective performances, and Pickell's simple yet manic, energetic staging combine to provide such an entertaining hour that it's easy to forgive what are perhaps some initial missteps and just sit back and laugh at yourself. Because, make no mistake, should you attend, it is yourself you'll be laughing at. Love spares none, afflicts all – and which of us would say it nay?

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