While Machiavelli himself opted for fear over the love of his subjects, the musical comedy "Triumph of Love," playing now through July 7 at Austin Playhouse, flips the equation on its head and illustrates what happens when an industrious princess applies Machiavellian tactics to winning a lover.
Princess Leonide (Sarah Zeringue) has fallen in love with the young and handsome Agis (Glenn DeVar). As with so many love stories set before suffrage, Leonide decides she must dress herself up like a man to infiltrate the household and win the heart of her beloved. (Fortunately for everyone, this doesn’t really fool very many of the characters). But Leonide doesn’t know that Agis is actually her long lost cousin and rival for the throne of Sparta.
For the past 18 years, Agis’ aunt Hesione (Boni Hester) and uncle Hermocrates (Rick Roemer) have raised him in a secluded garden, instructing the boy to love nothing but philosophy and reason, and prepping him to eventually kill Princess Leonide and retake his rightful throne. And, of course, today is the day of the plotted coup.
Based on an 18th-century farce by Pierre de Marivaux, this silly chamber musical survived a short Broadway run in the late-1990s. Set in ancient Greece, designed as Baroque, and scripted with an array of 20th-century anachronisms, the show’s hodgepodge of styles can induce a fair bit of cognitive dissonance.
Replete with fancy breeches, frilly neckcloths, and impressive sets of panniers for the ladies’ dresses, the costumes are vibrant and engaging – even though they do tend to look out of place against a backdrop of classical Greece.
Without much in the way of dancing and with music that’s fair to middling at best, the show is primarily driven by the comedy of the book’s word play and not-so-subtle double entendres. The cast does their best to keep the show moving, but the energy of the play itself waxes and wanes so that the first act drags.
Providing much of the borderline bawdy comic relief, Lara Wright (Corine) and Brian Coughlin (Dimas) entertain us in their roles as saucy servants, though Huck Huckaby doesn’t quite fit the role of a philandering Harlequin.
"Triumph of Love" is at least self-aware of its silliness, which saves it from being painfully hammy. But it’s inherently pretty light and fluffy, and will likely leave you only moderately satisfied.
"Triumph of Love" continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays through July 7. Tickets $30-32, students $15-16. Austin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport Blvd. www.austinplayhouse.com