It starts and ends with a whimper, but the middle of this Marivaux classic is filled with delights. The production opens with three figures cloaked in gray, reading in isolation and walking geometrical paths off the stage. It's intriguing. But right away this gloomy motif is ruptured by two women dressed as men—there is never a doubt of these ladies' gender, although the plot rests on that convention—who tear their way onto the stage and begin the action. During a long, wordy scene, Princess Leonide (the doe-eyed Abby Craden) and her sassy servant Corine (Hisa Takakuwa) set about filling the audience in on all the particulars. This exposition goes on and on, accented by unimaginative blocking by director Anne Justine D'Zmura in which the two actors take turns sitting upstage while they are talking and downstage while they are listening.
Thankfully, the lovely June Claman comes onstage. Playing the uptight spinster Leontine, Claman carries a calm weightiness with her, grounding the play and cementing its world into a plausible reality. From Claman's entrance, the play is transformed from a forced style piece into a classical tale with style. The actors are all quite good, Craden and Takakuwa finding their footing as the more mature actors take the reigns. Claman and Mark Bramhall as the stodgy philosopher Hermocrate make the journey of loveless to lover with grace. As the stoic layers are pulled away, they emerge bright and teeming with newly discovered sexuality. They are funny, buffoons of the crafty Princess, and pitiful, as we see their impending heartache on the horizon. Michael Matthys is believably innocent as the Prince, and Mitchell Edmonds plays the self-serving gardener with audacity. Even Louis Lotorto makes the most of the masked Harlequin role, landing his jokes with precision.
The set, by Thomas Buderwitz, is dark and simple, with three caged trees isolated upstage and a blue pool down center—in which most of the actors accidentally wet their clothes. The back wall, made of paper that is ripped away as the play proceeds, hides a flurry of greens and blues representing vibrant life just outside this gray compound. Lighting design, by James Taylor, adds warmth to the actors' faces as the heat of love melts away their dreariness.
D'Zmura's direction hits its stride in the plot twists, but the ending leaves us out in the cold as the design elements and character journeys seem to come to a patchwork end. The Princess and Prince leave united while the older characters sit sadly by, not even looking through the back wall that has by now been ripped clean open.
"The Triumph of Love," presented by and at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. In repertory. Oct. 11-Dec. 5. $22-38. (818) 240-0910.