In Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal, now onstage at the Cook Theatre in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production, a group of French aristocrats in the 1950s lead lives of pleasure, decadence and frivolity, with whatever energies they possess centered on presenting a comedy (by 18th-century playwright Marivaux) for a party welcoming similar guests. As director Ashley Teague asks in her notes for the program, how do you make this play-within-a-play from decades ago relevant today?
One way is to observe that the jaded rich, from whatever decade, whatever country, will always do whatever needs to be done to hold on to their wealth, their social status, and their world. You can probably point to examples of that, can’t you?
At first, with its characters wearing elaborate wigs and costumes (by Sofia Gonzalez) as they rehearse for their show (The Double Inconstancy), The Rehearsal seems a comedy of manners, with some familiar characters and situations. The Count (also known as Tiger in Jeremy Sams’ translation), played by Andrew Hardaway, is a 40ish playboy with an equally pleasure-seeking wife, Eliane (Olivia Osol, who works with aplomb around the wheeled cart she must use because of an injury), who doesn’t mind his infidelity with the shallow Hortensia (Katie Sah) any more than he minds hers with the rather boring Villebosse (Scott Shomaker). They’re playing within the parameters of their self-described game.
But as it develops, The Rehearsal may summon echoes of earlier works from Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game to Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons. As the order of things is threatened by what seems to be genuine love on Tiger’s part for the innocent governess Lucile (Jenny Vallancourt), Eliane and Hortensia scheme to destroy what they do not have and cannot really understand, but, in Eliane’s case at least, can envy: honest, real love. Their actions may appall Lucille’s godfather Damiens (Erik Meixelsperger), even though he has schemes of his own, but they may find a confederate in Tiger’s old friend Hero (Dylan Crow), a cynical, hard-drinking sort with a surface charm that masks something deeper and crueler.
In fact, the bright, artificial surface of the world these characters inhabit is a thin veneer just barely concealing the demons beneath. And the Conservatory cast, although mostly younger than the characters they play, is adept at pulling off both the exaggerated mannerisms of the first half and the desperate emotions of the second, with Crow especially growing into the role of the conflicted Hero.
It’s a darker journey into the hearts, minds and souls (for those who have the latter) of these people than you might initially anticipate, but The Rehearsal succeeds in taking its audience along. The production continues through March 11; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.