A heated debate has broken out at the court of an 18th-century monarch: Who was the first to be unfaithful in love, a man or a woman? To answer the question, four children, two of either sex, are raised in total isolation from one another and from the world. Twenty years later, the four children, now adolescents, are let loose to discover one another – and love.
Such is the story of The Dispute, written by the great comic playwright Pierre de Marivaux and staged by Meadows Theatre in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. The new production, directed by guest artist Mace Perlman, runs Feb. 24-28 in the Margo Jones Theatre, Owen Arts Center.
Marivaux (1688-1763) is the second most-performed comic playwright in France, after Molière. Yet he was controversial during his lifetime for his irreverent use of language and propensity for making up words – an affront to the French tradition of protecting the sanctity of the language. He wrote La Dispute in 1744 for Théatre-Français, only to have it shut down after one performance. The actors lacked the physical skills to portray its comic aspects, and the play’s failure to provide a “moral to the story” was shocking to its contemporary audience. The Dispute was not performed again until 1938, and then not again until the mid-1970s.
Guest director Perlman has trained with Marcel Marceau in Paris and with world-renowned director Giorgio Strehler at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. A specialist in 16th-18th century tragicomedy, he has spent more than two decades performing throughout the United States and Europe in the half-masks of the Italian commedia dell’arte in both English and Italian, as well as Shakespearean roles. In addition, he has taught and performed at more than 20 universities, including Harvard, Notre Dame and his alma mater, Stanford.
Perlman is also the first Meadows guest director to provide his own translation of a play written in a non-English language. “Marivaux is known for his unique use of language,” he says. “As I reviewed the existing English translations, none of them seemed to capture the spare music of the original, the inner voice of the play which I heard as I read it in French.”
(Above, sophomore theatre major Piper Werle and M.F.A. candidate Ricco Fajardo in the Meadows Theatre production of The Dispute by Marivaux. Photo by Linda Blase.)