The Dispute enjoyable with its four strong leads


As the sun dimmed on Lower City Park on the night of Aug. 20, the friendly chatter of a much too meager crowd filled the crisp air at the Riverside Theatre Festival Stage for the Iowa City Community Theatre’s production of The Dispute.

Flowers, plants, and strands of lights mingled together onstage, masking the naked roughness of the beautifully crafted outdoor set. And from the moment the actors took the stage for the prologue it became apparent that The Dispute was not going be disappointing.

The work, written by French playwright Pierre de Marivaux, translated by Gideon Lester and directed by Kathleen Hession, centers on the idea of infidelity and ponders whether it was man or woman who first cheated. While throughout the play females were portrayed as conniving and the males were only attracted to beauty, it was hard to be frustrated with either sex. The performances by every cast member were endlessly entertaining, and their portrayals of Marivaux’s characters made it hard to stop smiling.

The Dispute’s genesis was laden with symbolism. The boys held flowers while the girls donned either a hat or a tie, marking the play’s obvious focus on gender roles. Women even led the men for a brief period during the opening dance, although it seemed as if the dominant positions switched toward the end of the number.

While the supporting cast delivered strong, incredibly enjoyable performances, the standouts players were the four leads.

The Dispute centers on two boys and two girls, all who have been raised in solitude and all who have only seen two members of the human race (caretakers Mesrou and Carise) throughout their lives. In an effort to decide which sex would be unfaithful first, Mesrou and Carise begin slowly introducing the characters in what can only be described as an experiment.

Emma Palermo (Églé), dressed in all white, was the first character to be introduced. Despite her character’s narcissism (which was to be expected, having lived in solitude for her entire life), Palermo delivered her role in a way that made the pig-headedness wonderfully hysterical.
Palermo’s character is then introduced to Azor, played by Ari Scott. The interaction between the two lovers (if one can call them that, they fall in love upon setting eyes on each other), provided the The Dispute’s audience with laughs. Églé and Azor’s over-the-top passion for each other (and for themselves) nearly stole the show. With loud professions of love and their constant desires to remain together, the pair easily turned obsession into comedy. The pair would have been the most entertaining if the interactions between the other two characters hadn’t been just as wonderful.

Kelsey Carder (Adine) and Andrew Mehegan (Mesrin) also played two self-centered creatures (again, because they had been raised alone), who are both full of immediate desire for members of the opposite sex. Although the pair didn’t have as much time together onstage as Églé and Azor, the duo was just as fantastic. Mehegan’s facial expressions when shouting his character’s love of Adine was a definite highlight. He was so passionately embraced in his role it was a sheer joy to watch.
Simply by watching the interactions of all the characters, it was easy to see how much enthusiasm (and how much hard work), each member put into his or her performance. The only dispute that occurred during the performance was whether to laugh at the shallowness of mankind.

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