The desire for requited, passionate and lifelong love is the subject of countless dramas, but few explore the longing so achingly as Victoria Benedictsson’s The Enchantment. Ducdame Ensemble Theater Company brings the forgotten Scandinavian text to life for the first time ever in the US, thanks to a translation from the Swedish Arts Council. Benedictsson, a Victorian writer ahead of her time, crafts a compelling play about the conflict between a young woman’s expectations for love and domestic happiness, and her dangerous attraction to a man who doesn’t fit the mold. Tommy Lexen’s translation/adaptation of the neglected classic, directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, is as engaging as it is historically faithful, letting the play’s enduring relevance speak for itself.
Set in late 19th-century Europe, the story follows Louise Bergström (Fiona Mongillo), a fragile, waif-like woman easily swayed by the power of her own emotions. While escaping to Paris after a family tragedy, she meets the mysterious Monsieur Alland (Matthew DeCapua), a womanizing artist with a long trail of scorned lovers and casual trysts. The self-aware Alland acknowledges his power over women and his preference for fleeting romance while simultaneously pursuing Louise with all his charms. She knows their affair has an expiration date -- all love “wilts” eventually, he warns her -- so she is faced with the choice to either walk away and protect herself or explore their passion to its fullest, despite its potential to destroy her.
The versatile ensemble has no weak links, with several actors portraying multiple roles (including those of the opposite gender). Ducdame says all members of its troupe are classically trained, and they bring fresh emotion to Benedictsson’s text, despite some of its dated dialogue structures. Mongillo is a force to be reckoned with, and carries the play captivatingly from beginning to end with few, if any breaks. Her body language constantly reminds us of Louise’s fragile constitution, and we feel her pain through tears and trembling fingers. Though the character seems frustratingly weak in our modern feminist world, we must remember that the play is a product of its time, and that Louise fits the Victorian view of women as innocent, childlike and in need of protection.
DeCapua brings a smooth cunning to his Don Juan character, and his siren song seduces us along with Louise – making his playboy track record not only believable, but delectable to discover. Their attraction is accented perfectly by the standout lighting design, which reflects the emotions onstage with soft and subtle tones.
Louise’s struggle with temptation toward Alland’s terms feels ironic to watch today, where no-strings-attached flings are as commonplace as they were scandalous in Bendedictsson’s day. But the progression of their relationship proves that our hearts are often immune to our heads, and that our human desire for lasting love almost always has the final say.