FALSE ADMISSIONS, Impulse Theatre Company, at Bailiwick Arts Center. The work of 18th-century playwright Pierre Carlet de Marivaux is enjoying new popularity these days, and it’s easy to see why. Although he springs from the age of sentimentalism, his plays are not simple tales of lovers kept apart by meddling parents or evil-minded uncles, as most comedies of that age are. His lovers’ worst enemies are themselves, and his comedy arises from inner psychological conflicts as the lovers dither, full of fear, uncertainty, and stubbornness.

Impulse Theatre makes its debut in association with Bailiwick Repertory (and its new 75-seat space) with Marivaux’s False Admissions, a tricky little comedy that shifts suddenly from the subtle to the buffoonish. This production, directed by Susan Leigh, is a diamond very much in the rough. A little unsure of itself, it unsteadily navigates the path between broad comedy and real passions and doesn’t always find a way to connect the two.

As the sweet (and rich) widow Araminte, Amy Heath proves herself an able comedienne, frantically rationalizing her way around the love of the well-born but poor Dorante. But the Dorante of the very handsome Michael Reyes is perpetually puppy-eyed, and his love verges on the monotonous. Reyes seems to be playing only love’s devotion and none of its games, strange in a character masquerading as a steward to be near the woman he adores. As the servant who conspires to push the two lovers together, Sean Higgins lacks the subtlety of a true schemer, but gives the production a much needed boost of energy whenever he comes onstage.

Under Leigh’s direction the remainder of the cast serve mostly as simple abstractions–a jealous maid, a possessive rival, a loyal valet. It’s difficult to accept them as the three-dimensional characters Marivaux surely intended them to be, although Max Baker’s portrayal of the sympathetic uncle with a delightfully curmudgeonly crust is masterful. There’s also a sparklingly funny sword fight in the second act.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard Photography.