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‘Dispute’ asks who’s first to be unfaithful

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The genesis of love, desire, betrayal and passion is explored in Pierre de Marivaux’s play “The Dispute,” which opens the University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance’s new production season next weekend.

Director Gregory Moss, the head of the university’s dramatic writing program, is excited to be at the helm of this 18th-century play that focuses on four teens who were reared in isolation until the age of 19 and brought together for a daring experiment.

“The play is a love of mine,” Moss explained. “I first read it when I was hired to act in a play in the Boston area that was directed by ‘The Dispute’s’ translator (Neil Bartlett). I read it and fell in love with it. It’s funny, sexy and has great comedic ideas.”

Moss was so enthralled by “The Dispute” that he wrote his own adaptation of it in 2010. “It’s a contemporary version of the play,” he added. “I hope some day to have it produced.”

From left, Harrison Sim, Rhiannon Frazier and Grey Blanco are in the cast of “The Dispute” at UNM. (Courtesy of Pat Berrett)

From left, Harrison Sim, Rhiannon Frazier and Grey Blanco are in the cast of “The Dispute” at UNM. (Courtesy of Pat Berrett)

The UNM production is set in the 18th century, complete with elaborate period-style costumes and wigs. The four teens in the show, who have never met members of the opposite sex, are placed in a makeshift Garden of Eden by a prince who wants to find out if men or women are the first to be unfaithful in love.

“The play is about the human desire to love and the ways that it gets screwed up along the way,” said Moss. “Most of the dialogue comes from the teens, although there are two servants who tend to them and act like stage managers of the play.”

De Marivaux (1688-1763), who is considered to be one of the most important French playwrights of the 18th century, wrote “The Dispute” toward the end of his life in 1744. Although Moss says the play relates to contemporary times, it is not often produced.

“I’ve never seen it performed,” he said. “In effect, I’ve been approaching the production with a blank slate.”

The cast features Rhiannon Frazier, Grey Blanco, Andee Schray and Harrison Sim as the four teens and Stephen Armijo as the prince. UNM faculty member Inseung Park put together the scenic design for the play. Choreography was created by UNM graduate student Lisa Nevada, while classical and original music is played by cellist Briana Reed.

This is the first time that Moss directs a show for the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance. Before joining the faculty in 2012, he earned a master’s degree in dramatic writing at Brown University. His experiences in the theater include running a small theater company in Cambridge, Mass., teaching theater at a prep school and working as a professional actor.

Moss is a 2012 MacDowell Fellow and the recipient of a 2010-2011 Jerome Fellowship and a 2011-2012 McKnight Fellowship.