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Amphitryon 38, Jean Giraudoux's spicy paean to convivial fidelity, with dazzling variations on love and friendship, is receiving an amusing but generally insipid production at Tufts.
Giraudoux's play, based on the Greek legend of Zeus' rape of Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon, illustrates that neither the wiles of men nor the caprices of gods are effective against the constancy of devotion of a wife (Alkmena.) Jupiter attempts to rape Alkmena but discovers he must reckon with a woman far too intelligent to be led astray by passion.
The Tufts production conveys much of Giraudoux's imaginative wit and irony, but lacks dynamism and the smoothness of a thoroughly rehearsed production. Alkmena is anemic, Amphitryon should be more possessive. Instead of vigorous verbal fencing between Jupiter and Alkmena, we hear but gentle gibes. Muffed lines, awkwardly handled props, clownish warriors, nonexistent Theban mobs, and a series of confused sounds purporting to be "cosmic music" mar the plays buoyancy.
Arthur Lutton's Jupiter combined the naivete of the superman with the wistfulness of a god who wishes to experience the mortal man's sensual delights and difficulties. Gardner Tillson's mischievous Mercury is marred by awkwardness and profuseness of gestures. Jane Hanle was generally apathetic as Alkmena but conveyed Alkmena's conquetry and supicious insight. She deserves credit for stepping into her role on one day's notice. Paul Fithian's fatuous Amphitryon, Henry Franck's priggish Trumpeter, Ellen Whitman's inappropriately uncosmopolitan Queen Leda contribute to the carnival of characters who romp through the play. Giraudoux's classico-modern play is typical of many twentieth century French plays that use classical myths to reveal unexpected truths about contemporary social or political conditions. Contemporary problems treated as versions of Greek myths not only retain the desirable characteristics of classical drama (strong simplicity and universal suggestiveness); but the imaginative power of the classic myth enables modern authors to invest their works with poetic dialogue--very difficult to obtain in works concerned with the harsh realism of the bourgeois environment and twentieth-century man's lust for material gain.
Giraudoux's style has some notable qualities. Amphitryon 38 is a farrago of dramatic styles. Giraudoux merges realism with history, legend with fantasy, and the lyrical with the intellectual and philosophical. His unique talent imbues the erudite classical and rational with the whimsical, imaginative and romantic--distilling a sparkling essence of originality and spontaneity. He analyses the psychology of love with occasionally brilliant and penetrating flashes of Oscar Wildean wit, epigrams and repartees, and unmasks man's soul with inquisitive glee, showing sympathy and understanding of human character. His rainbow play sheds a radient vision and has an unmistakably French idiom of graciousness and lightness.
Yet even with its pungent peccadillos and devious imbroglios, Giraudoux's theme is light and trite, his scope limited. As we found "Marivaudage," we find "Giraudoux-age"; Giraudoux's verbal and analytical virtuosity approaches the precious. He dallies for three hours with the ephemeral, and the eternal sentiments received eternal dissertations. Above all, Giraudoux's result is not entirely coincidental with his aims. Intellectual comedy such as this should address itself to the imagination and intelligence more than to the emotions, and determination of the inherent nature of reality and truth should attempt to dissociate to some little extent love from sensuality.
However, Giraudoux fails to maintain a balance between ideas and spicy French sex, and the play becomes bikini. Interspersed with rationalistic salvos are a crescendo of kisses, lovers entwined like vine leaves on a Greek frieze and racy gods until the romp is reduced to a gala Gallic gaiety and the comedy verges on hedonism. Frankly, three hours of the bed become boring.
Giraudoux's views of the world through rose-colored glasses, his frothy creation, a cake with two layers of pink frosting on top, and his celestial wedding of irony and humor charm us. With numerous improvements, the Tufts production should be a delightful evening's entertainment.
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