Director Stephen Wadsworth is enjoying a Bay Area vogue, thanks to exquisitely nuanced stagings recently of works by Marivaux (“The Triumph of Love”) and Wilde (“An Ideal Husband”), both at Berkeley Rep. While he’s back at Berkeley Rep with another Marivaux chestnut, the delicious “Changes of Heart,” Wadsworth is also getting his first local airing as adaptor alone — San Jose Rep artistic director Timothy Near assumes helming honors for his translation of Goldoni’s “Mirandolina,” better known as “The Mistress of the Inn.”
One could argue that with Wadsworth, more is more, whatever form it takes. Yet this pleasant evening suffers from the inevitable opportunities for direct comparison. Lively but uneven, sometimes flat, Near’s production lacks the varied moods and precision her adaptor would have brought to another of his sterling textual dust-offs.
Titular figure Mirandolina (Melissa King), a country pensione proprietress, beguiles all with her beauty and independence — particularly two guests, the nouveau riche Count (Dan Hiatt) and nouveau poor (but still snobbish) Marchese (Ken Grantham). But as pure exercise in guile, she sets sights on a third, more challenging target, the avowedly misogynist Cavaliere (Kurt Rhoads). Thus a sort of gender-reversed “Taming of the Shrew” ensues, its subterfuge abetted by two actresses passing as aristocrats, and complicated by servant Fabrizio, who has selflessly loved Mirandolina all along.
As is usually the case with Wadsworth’s projects, this one centers on romantic gamesmanship that ends up entrapping the dealer; he’s clearly attracted to the yearning and pain beneath farcical machinations. The adaptation is clean, sophisticated, full of sly nods to theater itself and cleverly updated language flourishes: When Mirandolina ribs the two thespian con women with “What’s the use of sailing in here like a pair of ladyships when you’re really a couple of dinghies?,” you hear both Goldoni’s wit and the translator’s own embellishment.
In the second act, Near’s handsomely designed production hits its stride with some merry door-slamming-type business. But she doesn’t have a real feel for the gestural comic style required, or a consistent grasp of pace.
More problematic, King’s heroine is pragmatic to a rather charmless fault — she projects little beyond businesslike cunning, leaving the more earnest suitors (Rhoads’ Cavaliere and Jesus Mendoza’s Fabrizio) without an object worthy of their ardor. When the play ought to touch our heart, it falls short.
Hiatt’s lascivious Count and Grantham’s dithering Marchese offer smart turns, while, as the two ersatz ladies, superb local comedienne Kimberly King’s snap line readings are perfectly foiled by daffy Adria Woomer-Stewart. Luis Oropeza milks every possible laugh from his minor role as the Cavaliere’s knowing servant.
The middle ground between farce and naturalism Near aims for doesn’t mine the text’s full potential, and one can only dream about the stylized hilarity and melancholy Wadsworth himself might have drawn in her place.