Toronto’s French-language theatre stages a new production of Pierre de Marivaux’s play
I think, sometimes, shows fall into that awkward place between comfortable and predictable. TheThéâtre français’s La Seconde surprise de l’amour/The Second Surprise of Love playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre is an eighteenth-century romantic comedy that plays out exactly as you expect.
In other words, its weakness and its strength is the distinct lack of surprises in an otherwise solid, dependable show.
Having recently lost her husband, La Marquise (Karine Ricard) swears off love, hiring a tedious academic, Hortensius (Pierre Simpson) to teach her in her withdrawal from the world of emotions. Her servant, Lisette (Patricia Marceau), attempts to sway her mistress back into life by encouraging a romantic connection between lovelorn neighbour Le Chevalier (Nabil Traboulsi) with the help of his servant, Lubin (Nicolas Van Burek).
A straight up comedy of miscommunication, Seconde Surprise is not interested in shenanigans. You aren’t going to find epic chases or elaborate plotting and scheming, although there is a sprinkling of fun physical comedy smattered throughout.
Instead, this is a dialogue heavy show, interested in the back and forth between the characters.
Luckily, for the most part, the cast is a lot of fun. Simpson, Van Burek, and Marceau get most of the fun as they fake cry, argue, and philosophize about philosophy. They are a trio that perfectly captures the frenetic energy of comedies in a show without a lot of physicality.
In contrast is Ricard, who plays her comedy with much more subtlety. It’s a wonderful turn because it adds another layer to what is, essentially, a paint by the numbers romance.
You stick Ricard next to the vibrancy of the servant characters and scenes become a study in character. She’s funny and in control, but also demanding, critical, and sarcastic.
These four together almost make up for what my guest described as “scenes that dragged.”
Unfortunately, I think Traboulsi’s Chevalier fell flat. To be fair, the actor was stuck with a character whose main trait is melancholy, and whose main frustration is often that the woman he has feelings for doesn’t feel as strongly as him.
In 2018 it’s hard not to want La Marquisse to change the channel on him. It didn’t help that, next to the well-defined figures of La Marquisse, the servants, and the briefly seen Comte (Manuel Verrydt in a small cameo role), the Chevalier felt bland.
And I think the Chevalier is really a good example of what doesn’t work. This is not a show with a lot of action which means the momentum of scenes is dependent on the actors to carry it.
As my guest said, the play was good but it dragged at parts. And I would argue even the actors had no hope of keeping the plot moving. The actors try, and even director Joël Beddows points out that this script requires a “melding of action and speech so they become one” because the dialogue is front and centre.
And overall, I don’t think it quite succeeds.
What La Seconde surprise de l’amour fails at is being memorable. Is it good? Yes, for a night at the theatre, if you like this type of play, you’ll probably leave perfectly happy. But I probably won’t remember it a few weeks from now.
- La Seconde surprise de l’amour runs until October 28th at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
- Show runs from Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 3:30pm, and Sunday at 230pm
- Tickets are $49, $40 for seniors, and $20 for arts workers and under 30
- Tickets can be purchased at the Berkley Street box office one hour before showtime, by phone at 416-534-6604, or online here
- English subtitles are available Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
Photo of Karine Ricard and Nabil Traboulsi by Marc Lemyre