The Band of Toughs — formerly the Aluminous Collective, which distinguished itself with an excellent production of Charles Mee's Big Love last year — is back with a second offering: Finders Keepers Losers Weepers. The difference in quality is startling. Finders Keepers, which hitches together ensemble-developed material with an eighteenth-century play by Pierre Marivaux called The Double Inconstancy, is a mess.
The show begins with a bluesy chanteuse, Michelle Moore, singing songs from the '30s — "Stormy Weather," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" — and she does it very well, with excellent accompaniment. Unfortunately, the idea is to evoke a nightclub, so Moore sings as the auditorium fills and the audience chats away through her melodious, evocative stylings. A little later, couples drink and talk on stage while the bartender-storyteller (director David Ortolano), periodically stops the action to arrange and re-arrange their activities. Someone proclaims loudly that he wishes love in real life were more like love in the movies, and, lo, we're in the Marivaux play, which involves a prince who captures a peasant girl, Sylvia, with whom he's fallen in love. She is followed to the palace by her beloved, Harlequin, and both of them are soon entrapped in the spider's web of scheming and self-interest that is life at court. The prince woos Sylvia by pretending to be a guardsman rather than her kidnapper; Harlequin develops feelings for a courtesan called Flaminia; another courtesan, Lisette, denigrates Sylvia because she herself loves the prince; and a third, who calls herself Chablis, flounces around trying to attain I'm not sure what.
Movie conventions pop up now and then: an extended pie-in-the-face sequence that would have been funnier if it were shorter; one of those choreographed Ziegfeld Follies chorus numbers. There are interpolated musical numbers (the use of music was one of the most effective elements of Big Love), and most of these are lively and bright. But even the successful gags, songs and tricks don't add anything to the theme, and tone and focus waver all over the place. Are we supposed to care about the love between Sylvia, played with a certain charm by Cynthia Ward, and her Harlequin — a manic, hayseed performance by Nicholas Barth — and hope they'll stay together? When they fall for others, should we be rooting for these new affairs?
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Finders Keepers Losers Weepers
Presented by Band of Toughs through November 20 at Denver Civic Theater, 721 Santa Fe Drive; December 9-11, Naropa University, 2130 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, http://web.me.com/aluminous/Site/WELCOME.html.
Some time ago, Ed Baierlein produced another Marivaux classic, The Triumph of Love, at Germinal Stage. This, too, is a tangled love story set at court, and Baierlein emphasized the play's wit, coldness and calculation — which seemed in line with the playwright's intention. But Finders Keepers wants to be fuzzy and sweet. Maybe the show is intended as a lighthearted comment on lovers' madness and inconstancy, along the lines of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Or as a sophisticated, postmodern take-down of the very notion of love. Perhaps it's a comparison of love and romance now and in the eighteenth century. Or just a funny, frothy evening. The thing is, one production can't be all of these at the same time.
While the cast displays some charm and talent, there's also a lot of amateurishness here. I'd suggest that Band of Toughs just put Moore center stage, throw a nice spot on her, hush the audience — and lose the rest of this production.