What's a 25-year-old director doing with a 257-year-old play? In the case of Brian Kulick, he's staging the work--Marivaux's "The Game of Love and Chance"--at Taper, Too, where it will open next Wednesday.
"I feel that the way we live our lives now is kind of small and compartmentalized; we tend to narrow everything down," said Kulick, an artist-in-residence at the Taper since 1985. "When you're working on Shakespeare or Moliere or Marivaux, there's a vitality, a size of passion--and for two hours, life is lived in extremis , you're raised in sort of grand sweeps of inspiration."
Actually, this marks his second stab at the piece. During last summer's Taper Rep, while serving as assistant director to Gordon Davidson on "The Real Thing," Kulick staged a workshop production with some of the company's younger actors. Then last month, when Michael Cristofer's "Breaking Up" fell through at Taper, Too, Kulick was offered the spot--with his choice of material. He opted for another, more formal production of "Love and Chance."
In the past, it's brought him nothing but luck.
"At Carnegie-Mellon (where he received a master's degree in directing), you have to take this colloquium thing: read all these plays, and at the end, write a big long deal to get your MFA. Well, 'Love and Chance' was one of the plays--and it was the only one I didn't read. But I kind of knew what it was about. Anyway, I wrote the thing and passed my exam.
"Then, on the day I was supposed to interview with Gordon in New York, I got real nervous. So I went to a bookstore; I thought it would calm me down. And I found this collection of Marivaux plays, read them and fell madly in love. I went to the interview and thought I must have ruined it, because I'd been reading plays instead of preparing."
Obviously, it was not so. As a result, Kulick, who's locally born and reared (and had his first playgoing experience at the Taper) has found an accepting forum for his new ideas about old plays.
"I don't worry that this was written in 1730," he said. "Look at a play like Moliere's 'Misanthrope.' He sits down and wants to write about a misanthrope, but he's concerned that his wife is cheating on him--and ultimately, he can't help but write about that. So my impulse in doing a classic is to see what the subtext is, what that world is."
His preparation? "Intuition, reading and research. The actors tell you--by how they play the beats--whether or not you're right.
"The story is about love as a revolutionary force, as a carnival. There's a young girl from a very affluent family who's to marry a young man. But she's nervous, doesn't want to give her heart to some man without knowing who he is. So she dresses as her maid to watch him. In typical comedic fashion, unbeknownst to her, the young man has done the same thing with his servant.
"It's servant as master, master as servant, and each thinks it's the other one. It leads to total anarchy: The rich girl falls in love with the servant--who's really an aristocrat, but she doesn't know--and ultimately, she doesn't care.
"There is a dark element," he warned. "These children are very spoiled, and what they learn is that in this world, everyone must serve everyone else. Masters have to learn to serve their servants. So it's not only about class, but the problems between the sexes: that women are not subjects to be used. For the 18th Century, I think that was probably a revolutionary idea.
"Marivaux came right after Moliere. And he was the first playwright to start to deal with the psychology of a character in a very sophisticated way. In a Moliere play, you find that the emotional rhythms are very broad, very big. Moliere paints in primary colors: bold reds and yellows--vibrant and hot. Marivaux condenses all of that and cools it off, cools it down to pastels. It's a very sublime world, like listening to a piece of music that lures you in."
Kulick stopped to smile.
"I've been very fortunate, going from undergraduate to graduate school and right to here. It's important to have a support system, to be around people who can help you make the next step. Gordon demands that, demands that you stretch. And if you stretch, there's every chance that you might fail. That's OK. Catching lightning in a bottle is an ephemeral thing--and I don't think it happens often. But if it were easy to catch lightning, it wouldn't be fun to do theater."