More than a decade after it premiered at London’s National Theatre, Martin Crimp's modern translation of Pierre Marivaux’s 1724 comedy The False Servant comes to Los Angeles, but it seems to have left its thrills and chills across the pond. Though serviceable, the production by director Bart DeLorenzo’s innovative Evidence Room seems safer and blander that the company’s usual fare.
Still, Crimp’s update of Marivaux’s language — blending period-style speech with modern idiom — often creates witty turns of phrase, many of which the comic servant Trivelin (Barry Del Sherman) delivers with panache as his commentary provides a philosophical take on the events in the play.
These events surround the Chevalier (Chastity Dotson), a Parisian woman disguised as a man, who uses the subterfuge to discern the character of Lélio (Christian Leffler), the man she has been promised to. The problem is that Lélio is a libertine who has also seduced the Countess (Dorie Barton), even signing a contract of engagement with her. He now wishes to extricate himself from that contract so that he may pursue the wealthier Parisian woman, but to do so without penalty, the Countess has to break the contract. Hence Lélio attempts to convince the Chevalier (whom he believes to be male) to seduce the Countess.
Despite the storyline’s potential, the twists and turns come too easily, failing to inspire emotional investment in the urgency of the characters’ desires. Dotson has some sparkling moments, and Del Sherman steals most of the scenes he’s in. The original songs sung by Frontin (Cody Chappel) and comic bits by Arlequin (Mathew Bazulka) entertain, and Leah Piehl’s cleverly modernized period costumes are an aesthetic treat. Yet at the center of a play about love, there seems to be not enough heart.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; through Sept. 6. (310) 477-2055, ext. 2. odysseytheatre.com
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