Triumph of Love plays with gender roles and stereotypes

In a theatrical world often typified by strong male protagonists and submissive, struggling female ingenués, UBC Theatre is challenging traditional gender roles with its modern musical adaptation of Pierre de Marivaux’s comic play Triumph of Love.

The musical adaptation Triumph of love by James Magruder is based on the 1973 Pierre de Marivaux commedia dell’arte play Le Triomphe de l’Amour and has become renown in musical theatre for its unique craft and forward thinking.

Directed by MFA directing student Barbara Tomasic, the musical follows the fearless Princess Leonide, played by Catherine Fergusson, as she embarks in search for her love and discovers something about herself in the process. When the princess falls in love with Agis, played by Zac Wolfman, who is the rightful heir to the kingdom usurped by Leonide’s family, the princess dresses up like a man in order to win his heart. However, complications ensue when she deceives and seduces other characters to get closer to Agis, all the while being unaware that he has been training his whole life to assassinate her.

“What was interesting to me was that the show was not only comedic but also had a sort of authentic underbelly and one of my goals as a director, especially in theatre, is to find that authenticity,” said Tomasic.

At its core, the musical focuses on the journey towards self-discovery and finding out what love truly means. According to Fergusson, as the characters interact and engage in relationships, from meeting new people, making friends and hurting people along the way, they come to learn who they really are and to accept themselves.

“Princess Leonide becomes all of these other identities in order to become her whole self. So she dresses as a man, and then she pretends to be a different woman but in the end all of these men and women that she pretends to be become her whole person," said Tomasic.

Significantly, these are experiences to which most of us can relate. “We all have an idea of what love is and we are constantly having to re-evaluate that and adjust that in our lives based on our experiences,” said Wolfman.

Triumph of Love has certainly made me question my beliefs about love. I think every character in this play goes through a different journey in discovering what that means to them. From it being a romantic relationship, to knowing oneself or an unconventional relationship or accepting who they are within the context,” said Tomasic.

While generating a space for introspection, Triumph of Love delivers more than a generous dosage of wit and humour. From mistaken identities to sexual jokes, recognizable stereotypes of hopeless romantics, and what Wolfman terms a “Scooby-doo feel” of loss and disorder, the comedic musical does not fall short of entertaining action.

In addition, the catchy music that underscores the play, consisting of a combination of pop, jazz, opera and burlesque is guaranteed to keep you on your feet as the characters saunter onto the stage and exit to the rhythm of their own musical themes.

“Prepare to leave, go home and download the soundtrack and listen to the songs over and over again,” said Wolfman.

Although the hilarious plot and energetic music promise to offer a refreshing cocktail for a modern musical, the production's open embrace of non-traditional gender roles and intentional gender bending is perhaps the most exciting aspect of this production. While each character brings its unique flavor to the musical, it is the ambitious female characters, particularly Princess Leonide, who propel the play forward. An intense and unrelenting force of nature, the Princess constantly fluctuates from being male or female, causing almost the entire house to fall at her feet.

“There’s something about a reverse princess story that appeals to me. As a feminist, I’m not a huge lover of the Disney princess world, so it was interesting to come across a piece where the princess is actually ambitious and going for what she wanted and having to address her faults. It seemed like an enlightened fairytale to me. And the women in this play are really intelligent and strong,” said Tomasic.

Pulsing with political intrigue, romance, murder and mistaken identity, Fergusson likens the hilarious, tongue-in-cheek musical to “Game of Thrones the musical.”

“2015 is a good time to be showing Triumph of Love, especially at UBC, because this kind of plot is something that people nowadays like. I’ve been posting on Facebook that it is like Game of Thrones the musical because we are fighting over a throne, and my uncle killed his parents. So it has all of those blood ties and fantasy stuff that people are into these days,” said Fergusson.

Triumph of Love will be performed March 19th - April 4th at the Frederic Wood Theatre.