…I bumped into Marivaux. And I’ll be delayed for a while.
Been trying to find the best way to approach Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte for some time now, and lately chatting with Lucia of OpOb about it. All sources I consulted directed me to Marivaux and that particular genre of drama that boomed in the ancien regime (Marivaux, Des Laclos, Goldoni, Beaumarchais) and Restoration (Congreve) which is often about the interchangeability of human beings, mechanical love, and the importance of money in most intimate human affairs. Some of these are incredibly contemporary — moreover, they are more accurate and with more radical sexual politics than anything we see on TV or pop culture today.
So I started reading Marivaux with the 2004 Martin Crimp’s translation and adaptation of The False Servant, which was also staged at the National Theatre in London that year. And what do you know: it’s a play with one the most fantastic en travesti (or White Shirt if you will) role I’ve ever seen, in opera or off.
Nancy Carroll plays a young woman who dresses as a man (Chevalier – Kavalier, anybody?) in order to befriend and discredit a potential unsuitable suitor, the money-chaser Lelio. Meanwhile, Lelio’s waning love interest, the Countess (played by the ever divine Charlotte Rampling) falls for the Chevalier. Seemingly, the twists of the plot require it, but actually Chevalier seduces the Countess because she wants to seduce the Countess. The long, tension-filled exchanges between the two make the central part of the play.
And the ending… is no usual denouement. There’s no denouement, period. In this regard, the reversals and plays of sexual differences are not reordered back together to their conservative early state. The play leaves everything open, and could have been written by a 20C modernist.
Chevalier: …The fact is, you love me, and your heart is mine. I’ll do whatever I want with it, just as you can do whatever you please with mine: those are the rules — which you will observe — because I say so.
“Love needs love scenes: being in love means / playing the lover’s part: / your eyes look into mine, I know that’s the sign / the cue I take from you to start.” [Musicians]
Cast & creative for the 2004 NT production here.