Marivaux has become fashionable; the works of the 18th century playwright have found favor and acclaim in resident and non-profit theaters. From a translation by Stephen Wadsworth, who staged his adaptation of “The Triumph of Love” at the McCarter two seasons ago, comes “Changes of Heart,” a lively comedy of manners that fancifully mocks the snobberies of aristocracy and the absurdities of courtship.
The commedia-influenced farce attends the courtship of a prince who loves a country lass to utter distraction — enough to have her brought to his palace against her wishes. She, in turn, loves the wily Harlequin, who laments the fervent ardor of his better.
In a subtle mixture of humor and humanity, the comedy succeeds on several levels. A nicely groomed contrasting of actors contributes to a keenly orchestrated comic romance.
Natacha Roi is an affecting and vibrant milk maiden, skittishly confused yet brightly keen in the foibles of love.
John Michael Higgins returns to the role of Harlequin, which he created at McCarter in ’92. He plays the quixotic role with great gusto. Higgins spins like a top, twists like a pretzel and, in a prideful declaration in which he claims to be his own vacation, he becomes even more: his own parade, his own dessert. His clowning is delicious, and he manages to make his comic point with double entendres and balletic nonsense that avoid becoming too broad.
Nicholas Kepros is grandly pompous as a foolish lord, and Laurence O’Dwyer adds a studied drollness as the loyal valet, eliciting audible sighs from the audience in a wistfully heartbreaking exit. Robert Sean Leonard is the lovesick prince who poses as an officer to woo his beloved. He makes going gaga in the Age of Enlightenment an enlightening pastime.
The polite conversation and cunning barbs laced with intrigue are suavely staged by Wadsworth with poignantly reflective interludes. He uses his open stage imaginatively, with precision and style.
Thomas Lynch’s simple but elegant set is devoid of clutter. A folding screen, three chairs and a small table grace his lavish palace anteroom. With its French doors, pastoral murals, crimson tapestry and high mahogany cornices, the set has enough stately poise to secure its players in a distinctly handsome production. The costumes by Martin Pakledinaz provide rich but civil period garb.