Sunday, January 26, 2003

'Triumph' falls short of a total success

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

>What crazy things can love make us do? Should love rule over reason or vice versa?

These are the romantic questions of Triumph of Love, the frothy musical farce by the trio of Jeffrey Stock (music), Susan Birkenhead (lyrics) and James Magruder (book) based on the 18th century comedy by Pierre Marivaux.

Triumph of Love is an entertaining but unremarkable show that had a Broadway run in 1997 and is being given its local professional premiere by the Ovation Theatre Company. Ovation's production has its moments but is less than a triumph because of an uneven cast.

Our heroine is young Leonide (Shannon Kramer), the princess of Sparta, who has found herself smitten with oblivious Agis (Joe Stollenwerk), a student in the reclusive philosophy school of his uncle Hermocrates (David Shough) and aunt Hesione (Michelle Becker).

Leonide disguises herself as a man (one of many Shakespearean devices in Triumph) in order to get close to Agis.

But because her disguise is less than successful, she finds herself continually shifting characters (and sexes) and soon Hermocrates, Hesione and Agis are all in love with her.

Further complicating the complications is a lusty love triangle involving Leonide's servant Corine (Kendra Struthers), Dimas the gardener (Brian Benz) and Harlequin the valet (Kevin Kunz).

It all could make for a heartfelt romp, and in some ways it does.

Ms. Kramer is amusingly spunky, but also sincere as Leonide. She knocks out her two big songs - "Anything" and "What Have I Done?" - and carries the show in most of her scenes.

Also effective is Ms. Becker as the matronly Hesione, especially as she surprises herself by discovering love. She finds the varied nuances and focus of her role and has a touching musical moment in "Serenity."

The rest of director Dennis Murphy's cast nail Triumph's many funny double entendres but give one-dimensional performances at best. They aren't believable as their characters. There is little urgency in much of their comedy, and no passion in the romance.

They are mugging rather than acting. Farce can and should be exaggerated, but we need to believe that the characters believe who they are and believe what they are doing. In this production, only Leonide and Hesione triumph.

Mr. Murphy's set design is a pleasant topiary garden, nicely raised so that it can be seen from the back row.

The colorful period costumes are designed by Stephen A. Rausch and Schenz Theatrical Supply.

The Triumph of Love, through Feb. 1, Ovation Theatre Company, Aronoff Center, 241-7469.

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