A timeless one-act comedy
translated and adapted by David Nicholson ©
from Les Sincères (1739) by Marivaux
3 women, 3 men
Approximate time: 45 minutes
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Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux (1688-1763), a novelist, journalist and playwright known simply as Marivaux, was “a true dramatist, a subtle psychologist, and an artist pure and simple” wrote Lytton Strachey in 1912. The genius of Marivaux was in creating characters teeming with contradictions: amusing and pathetic, endearing and cruel, honest and manipulative; in short – human beings. Happily, Marivaux rarely missed the humour in the contradictions.
The Guardian (UK) critic Michael Billington’s 2011 assessment of Marivaux as “a neglected comic master” rings true. My research has failed to find another English translation or adaptation of Les Sincères in 270 years; as far as I know, Really, Really, Really, Sincerely Yours is the first.
Here’s the story in a nutshell:
During a week at her French country house, Madame and Ergaste are attracted by what they tell themselves is their shared quality of absolute sincerity. But Lisette says of her employer: “She can be charming, but it gets complicated if you want to tell her so; compliments distress her – or so she says. The only way you can do it is to pretend you’re picking a fight. Flatter her with a scowl and she purrs.” And Frontin says of his: “To listen to him, no one is as unattractive, as incompetent, at times imbecilic as Ergaste. The more outrageous his defects, the better – it gives him character.” Lisette and Frontin use this first-hand knowledge to drive Madame and Ergaste apart and into the waiting arms of Dorante and Araminte.
If the characters remind you of Molière’s The Misanthrope, it’s no accident. While Marivaux was not a fan of his famous predecessor, there’s no doubt he used the play as his starting point – in a sense, Ergaste and Madame are duelling misanthropes. Luckily, the wit of Lisette and Frontin, acerbic though it is, helps make the play more comic than most productions of The Misanthrope.
In creating Really, Really, Really, Sincerely Yours, I focused on ensuring that the humour of Les Sincères would continue to prevail, whether it’s staged in period or modern dress.
Excerpt from scene 1:
(to the audience)
Do you see what she’s doing? I suspected she had feelings for me.
He’ll be here soon; you can wait if you like. Just don’t expect conversation – mum’s the word with me.
I’ll be mute. But I’m sure you’ll make a good mum.
Muteness is a rare trait in your gender.
Nevertheless – you’ll have no words from me.
(with a small smirk)
I hear what you’re saying.
(to the audience)
He doesn’t like me – that’s in his favour.
You’re thinking you like me, aren’t you?
I’m not thinking of you at all.
I meant: you like my looks.
I didn’t notice. You thought I did?
I wouldn’t have been surprised.
As far as I’m concerned, you might as well be invisible.
What do you think of me?