Triumph of Love, running through Sunday at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, is so out of nowhere, so goofy, that it evokes a light, summery feeling, with little at stake except entertainment. Starting with the orchestra in their 18th-century wigs, this is an invitation to go over the top.
It’s also a 1997 chamber musical based on Pierre de Marivaux’s 1732 play The Triumph of Love. He based it on ancient commedia dell’arte characters and plots: the intrepid young woman and clueless young man (destined lovers); the deluded old man and woman (who block their way); the zanni, or willing accomplices, who aid the former and thwart the latter. Marivaux’s play flopped at first but is now considered a classic.
Chamber musicals demand a broad mind. If the music is undistinguished, as here (despite Susan Birkenhead’s sometimes clever lyrics), or if one singer has a vibrato that never settles on one note, another has a head tone that bypasses the throat altogether, and a third has an irritating upper register, let it pass. Take the whole thing in.
Princess Léonide of Sparta (played with comic sparkle by Alex Keiper) loves Agis (likable Jake Delaney), who lives with his aunt and uncle in a vast, closed garden devoted fanatically to reason. Women are usually smarter in commedia, but, man, Agis is a few laps behind at all times.
For me, the true greats of this production are the three zanni. Adam Hoyak plays Harlequin himself, with the commedia classic clown moves down to a T. He sings beautifully, too. Danny Rutigliano brings a Danny DeVito dirtiness to Dimas, gardener of veggies and double entendres. And the very best thing here is wondrous Rebecca Robbins as Corine, maid of Léonide. What a voice, and what leers. These three have the best number in the show, the unforgettable “Henchmen Are Forgotten” (“Me, I say it’s rotten / Like day-old peas au gratin”).
Corine is a naughty parallel to virtuous Léonide. When the princess kind-of seduces not only Agis but also his austere uncle, Hermocrates (Carl Wallnau in a great turn), and his aunt, Hesione (Joy Franz), Corine for-real seduces Harlequin and Dimas. As she makes clear in “Mr. Right,” she’s doing it first and foremost to, uh, do it.
Many are the phallic jokes. Agis falls in love with Léonide right through her boy disguise, which occasions a rather awkward embrace. Hermocrates’ cane, Dimas’ clippers – you can’t escape. Nor can you escape Keiper’s comic faces (especially during “The Sad and Sordid Saga Ballad of Cecile”), Wallnau’s clueless swanning about, or Robbins’ deliberately anachronistic 21st-century idiom (“I think we’re gonna need some back-up” or “I’m outta here!”).
There may be Barrymore consideration for Roman Tatarowicz’s sets (which, brilliantly, have levels but not depths), Lisa Zinni’s lush costumes, and a couple of the performers. Triumph (title and play) sends up the Enlightenment: Each chuckle reminds you that rationalism is, after all, pretty silly.
Triumph of Love
Through May 20 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol. Tickets: $15-$52. Information: 215-785-0100, brtstage.org.