Aug. 1 2007 12:00 AM

Playhouse's The Deception is hard to believe-and that's what makes it so good

Dominique Serrand, an artistic director at Minneapolis' Theatre de la Jeune Lune and director of La Jolla Playhouse's current The Deception, told us at a preview that author Pierre de Marivaux's work is hard to translate from his native 18th-century French. Tricky English equivalents, he continued, were posing pesky questions at rehearsals; accordingly, Serrand invited us to eschew the glitches and focus on the bigger picture. 'The meaning,' he said, 'is in between the lines, not in the lines.'

Fact is, he could have said the same thing about any production. That's because a big part of us is wired for double meanings and unspoken agendas and the not so obvious, which is one reason the theater's survived the last trillion years. In any case, Serrand needn't have worried. This Jeune Lune-Playhouse co-production translates just fine-it, too, is wired for double meanings and unspoken agendas and the not so obvious. Nowhere does the dialogue seem that out of place, and the program may as well have listed the tech work as a character by itself.

These folks are ideal envoys for their art form, and here they have a compelling dramatic comedy about the espionage, the hypocrisy and the color of cash that routinely adorn romantic love.

Serrand and Jeune Lune's Steven Epp adapted The Deception from Marivaux's La Fausse Suivante (The False Servant), which, like so much of Marivaux's work, involves dual identities. Chevalier (Merritt Janson) has reason to suspect that her fiancé Lelio (Casey Greig) is plunking a well-to-do Countess (Emily Gunyou Halaas), and she figures she'll get to the bottom of it by disguising herself as a man and befriending her betrothed. Not only are her suspicions confirmed, but she also discovers, poor thing, that Lelio wants to marry her only for her money.

Fairly innocuous plot, for sure, right out of everything from Aeschylus to Shakespeare-but as it unwinds, pay attention to David Coggins' set design, Sonya Berlovitz's costumes and Marcus Dillard's muted, one-note lights. They combine to paint an oppressive, almost clinical environment amid Coggins' sky-high, maze-like walls of multicolored panels and Berlovitz's prevalent use of whites. This terrific tech effort places these characters squarely under the cynical Marivaux's microscope, and Serrand's manipulating them accordingly as they dart aimlessly under the lens. The characters are hard to believe, but not because the cast lets down. They're hard to believe because they're all a bunch of lying, calculating, snot-wad opportunists, living entirely without choice. Therein lies the play's power.

I had to settle for a preview because the opening bumped up against vacation (my first since those fabulous three days' R&R with a milkmaid I met during the Spanish-American War). It's opened by the time you read this, and there's no reason to think it's devolved into something less presentable than the preview. Good show.


This review is based on the preview performance of July 20. The Deception runs through Aug. 19 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla. 858-550-1010. $34-$60.

Peanuts are cute

Where'd Diversionary Theatre find Beth Malone, who plays the central character in the company's The Break Up Notebook: The Lesbian Musical? She's got her pedigree down, having worked in Pasadena, Atlanta and New York-now she's here in one of 2007's funniest turns as Diversionary opens its 22nd campaign.

Writer Patricia Cotter's storyline is predictable, but the script's charm lies in its performance potential. That's where Malone shines as Helen, a 33-year-old lesbian on the rebound. Helen's ready to date again, and she'll soldier on in a world awash in impromptu Kegel exercises, dental dams and the many and varied uses for Saran Wrap. Malone knows the difference between the nuances that read and those that won't make it past the lip of the stage, and she and director Peter Schneider pass over the latter without a second's hesitation. Malone is great in a show that's feisty as a jilted mate and cuter than peanuts. And if you've ever seen peanuts before, you know how cute they can be.


The Break Up Notebook: The Lesbian Musical runs through Aug. 12 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $10-$35. 619-220-0097.


Write to and


See all events on Tuesday, Oct 25