`CHANGES' MARRED BY UNEVEN PACE.
The characters may be dressed in breeches and hoop skirts, but their predicament - being paralyzed by doubt as they face wrenching change - is sheer 1990s.
Such is the fascination of ``Changes of Heart,'' a rediscovered gem by 18th-century French playwright Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux. Breathlessly received in Princeton, N.J., and Berkeley, a new translation of the play arrives at the Mark Taper Forum under the guidance of Stephen Wadsworth, who has sparked a Marivaux revival with his adaptations and stagings of ``The Triumph of Love,'' ``Changes of Heart'' (previously known as ``The Double Inconstancy'') and the upcoming ``The Game of Love and Chance.''
The play itself is sure to be as giddily received here as elsewhere, and Wadsworth - who also directed Handel's ``Xerxes'' for the Los Angeles Music Center Opera last season - deserves our gratitude for reintroducing it. His frenetic, stylized staging, however, will engender some misgivings.
Writing in the Age of Enlightenment, Marivaux was part of a society that believed most everything could be explained through reason and the scientific method. Yet, as Marivaux points out, nothing is easily explained where human beings - and especially the workings of their hearts - are concerned. Matters are further complicated if their society is racked by a complete re-evaluation of its social, political, religious and economic systems.
Again and again, characters in ``Changes of Heart'' are asked, ``What do you want?'' - to which they reply, ``I don't know.'' It's a telling refrain ... and one that many of us are echoing today.
The story unfolds in the grand reception room of a palace belonging to an unnamed prince - a sumptuous environment of ceiling frescoes, inlaid wood floors, and rows of tall glass doors and windows (the latter enabling the servants and courtiers to more easily eavesdrop on one another).
Infatuated with an attractive commoner named Silvia, the prince has abducted her and imprisoned her in this gilded cage. He's determined to win her love, and for various reasons of their own, his crafty servants endeavor to help him. Silvia, however, is determined to remain true to her clownish but devoted suitor, Harlequin.
At first, it seems certain that these sweet, mostly unspoiled lovers will remain constant. But as the servants and courtiers unleash their special brand of deception, the lovers become disoriented. Overwhelmed by rapid changes of heart, they become anxious and indecisive - and suddenly, this frothy romantic comedy reveals itself as a sharply observed depiction of people in transition.
Wadsworth carefully delineates this shift as his staging slows from antic scenes performed at mind-numbing speed to stately pageants saturated with detail.
He begins the play at too high a pitch, however, and for an uncomfortably long time, you fear you'll be trapped inside an 18th-century comedy turned Warner Bros. cartoon. You keep expecting Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner to come racing on stage along with the frenzied courtiers. Still more disconcerting, Wadsworth has each actor working in a different performance style, from stilted declamation to free-associating, Robin Williams-like comedy. The result feels awfully disjointed.
Still, the performances are mostly wonderful, especially those of John Michael Higgins as a Harlequin who's all the Marx Brothers rolled into one, Mary Lou Rosato as a waiting woman who communicates whole subplots with her snootily drawn face and arched eyebrows, and Laurence O'Dwyer as a valet who's just too deliciously deadpan for words.
The show: ``Changes of Heart.''
Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; through Sept. 1.
Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes; two intermissions.
Tickets: $28 to $35.50, available by calling (213) 628-2772.
Our rating: Three Stars.
Photo: Mary Lou Rosato, John Michael Higgins and Laurence O 'Dwyer star in ``Changes of Heart'' at the Mark Taper Forum.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Article Type:||Theater Review|
|Date:||Jul 26, 1996|
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