For Canadian artists and audiences, the mention of classical theatre creates expectations, particularly with regard to the form of a work and the themes it addresses. What a delight, then, to see how much The Second Surprise of Love foils our expectations in so many ways.
To begin with, what do we make of the characters of the Marquise and Lisette? Not only are they partners in crime, but they’re in charge – no one can doubt that the power in this play rests with the women. Despite the persistence of certain gendered stereotypes punctuating the piece here and there, the principle of free will is vigorously defended as the only possible determinant of love.
As for form, to the contemporary ear, the choice of vocabulary, the verb tenses used, the complexity of certain sentences can give the impression of a wordy and over-written script. And yet a more careful analysis reveals that Marivaux’s characters exist in a universe where spontaneity takes precedence over reason. Instead of thinking, they react – and they do so without anticipating the consequences of their actions. As a result, they put themselves in danger by virtue of their many unforeseen romantic discoveries. It is here especially, I believe, that one detects the influence of the Italian commedia dell’arte that has inspired Marivaux’s work.
Certainly, because of the importance of women in this play and the fact that they can say what they actually think, the ending is a surprise. Furthermore, it seems that the plot could end at any time. For these reasons, to mount Marivaux requires melding action and speech so that they become one. Here, to paraphrase the expression, “to say” really is “to do.”
In such a world, there is endless pleasure for both the actors and the audience. Here, a widowed Marquise and an abandoned knight unite through their refusal to fall in love a second time; the first left too many scars. The second time round is not only a surprise, but dangerous.
Clearly, both form and content have inspired me to present this play.