The Triumph of Love by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux (adapted by Stephen Wadsworth)

University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, 2001


A Word from the Director: What Kind of Fools Are We?

     I have spied in the human heart all the different niches where Love can hide when it is afraid to show itself, and each one of my comedies has for its object to make Love come out from of its niche
                         –Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux

These days, it’s almost a reflex to be ironic about love. Sentimental and cynical are two other poses that play well, providing the armor of cliché or the emotional distance of the copped attitude as protection for both the poseur and the posed-upon.

Hollywood does these poses beautifully. Always has. And I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good sentimental love story. Give me Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed or Tracy and Hepburn or even Ryan and Hanks and I’ll watch, riveted, as the anticipated plays out as expected to the inevitable conclusion. It’s easy to knock these films as manipulative tear-jerkers, but for my part, you better make sure the tissues are handy. On the other end of the spectrum, I enjoy celebrating my oh-so-cool-and-knowing take on life with an archly ironic commentary on the state of modern relationships now and again. Several recent Ben Stiller flicks come to mind.

And yet, as easily as I can succumb to sentiment, as comfortable as it is to put on a public show of cynical disdain or ironic nonchalance about the whole business of love, I still felt the truth of it when, on my first encounter with The Triumph of Love, one of the characters said: “Deep down, we are made for loving,” and another replied, “Indeed we are. Everything turns on this . . . love.”

Love triumphs in this play not because Leonide is such a brilliant strategist (though she is) but because Hermocrate, Leontine and Agis, whatever their pretensions and protections, are all “fools for love.” Not fools because they are dim-witted, but because, to avoid the pain of loving and losing or (even worse) loving and being changed by it, they have chosen to pose as people wise in the ways of the world, while remaining naïve in the ways of the heart. To their immense discomfort — and eternal benefit — they discover the heart has a keener sense for what is true and right than a library full of well-reasoned arguments could contain.

When love is coaxed “out from of its niche,” it transforms us in ways that penetrate far more deeply than shallow sentiment, irony or cynicism ever could. At first we are confused, embarrassed or even angered: we instinctively understand that anything that feels this good must be perilous, as when Leonide warns her Prince “you’re not necessarily going to feel better because of all of this.” We beg to be excused, resort to self-deception and, when pressed, swoon, have palpitations, get jealous and generally flustered and flummoxed. To put it simply, we get silly.

And we become more human for it.

We go to almost any length to avoid letting our need for each other show, because we believe it makes us vulnerable. And it does. It makes us vulnerable to seeing ourselves in a new light, forces us to look at ourselves in ways that threaten our carefully manicured public personas. How is it that we have made a world in which, to be considered “sane” and “healthy,” it is necessary to cut ourselves off from each other for fear of judgment and a loss of control? It’s a question that troubles me every time I see someone I care about and don’t make the time to tell them so; every time a social role I’m supposed to play gets in the way of offering help or comfort or the truth of who I am; every time I hear a tale of tragedy and don’t feel it to the depths of my soul because I’ve heard it all before; every time I realize that, to feel as fully, to love as deeply as we could all the time, every day would destroy us.

Marivaux’s contribution to dramatic literature is termed “modest” by most theatre scholars. He has only recently begun to gain some currency in this country with contemporary translations like this one. Somehow the idea that his keenly observed, moving commentaries on the foibles and frailties of the human heart are merely a “modest” contribution to the theatre makes me wonder if we haven’t missed the point of theatre entirely.