First impressions count - and so artistic directors are always careful about choosing how they begin their tenure.
Max Reimer immediately made his mark at the Vancouver Playhouse last year with the first post-Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone , while Des McAnuff set the tone for his time at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with a colour-blind and flashy Romeo and Juliet .
So what does it mean that George Pothitos, the new, soft-spoken artistic director of Neptune Theatre in Halifax, has chosen to open his first season at the regional theatre with The Game of Love and Chance , a 1730 French comedy by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux?
Given that most of Canada's regional theatres seem to have an allergy to classics not penned by William Shakespeare, kicking things off with an elegant farce by the Mozart of playwrights is a rather strong statement - but Pothitos simply thinks the play is a good fit.
"Neptune has such a long history of classical work in its repertoire and it's one of my favourite things as well," he says, on the telephone from his office in Halifax. " The Game of Love and Chance is so accessible and delightful; for me, it makes perfect sense to begin a season with a very joyful production."
Born in Buenos Ares and raised in Ottawa, Pothitos has spent the last nine years as the much-loved artistic director of the Sudbury Theatre Centre.
There he erased the theatre's long-standing deficit, revived its tradition of youth theatre, and, yes, indulged in his love of the classics. (His final season there began with Molière's The Miser .) Before applying to run Neptune, Pothitos had only been to Halifax once - as an actor, playing Handel with the symphony. But Atlantic Canada's premier playhouse (which just announced its ninth consecutive operating surplus) had been on his radar since one of his professors at Queen's University put it to him this way: Neptune and the Vancouver Playhouse are the two pillars holding up the proscenium arch of the country.
Upon arrival, Pothitos felt a "natural" connection to Halifax - though the friendliness of the people initially confused him. "The first week I was here, people would smile at me and I would smile back," he says. "I thought I must have met them before."
Does that mean that Sudburians don't smile? "Oh yes, they do," says Pothitos. "It's just that I actually did know everyone in Sudbury. When I met someone at Costco, they'd tell me what they thought of the last show they saw."
Pothitos has programmed an ambitious inaugural season at the Neptune, with over 50 per cent of the plays written by Canadians.
Atlantic Canadian work is represented by A Beautiful View , by Sydney, N.S.-born Siminovitch winner Daniel MacIvor, and No Great Mischief , David S. Young's adaptation of Alistair MacLeod's book of the same name. Other Cancon in the season: Doug Curtis's Mesa ; Rick Miller's Bigger than Jesus ; and Michele Riml's Sexy Laundry , a sex comedy Pothitos hopes will brighten up the dark winter months.
The 2009-10 slate of plays also includes the Pultizer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, as well as family fare A Christmas Carol: The Musical and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan .
But to kick it all off, Pothitos chose Stephen Wadsworth's translation of Marivaux's celebrated The Game of Love and Chance . In the Commedia-dell-arte-influenced comedy, Silvia has been set up in an arranged marriage with Dorante - but before their first meeting, she switches places with her servant in order to observe her betrothed from a distance. The only problem with the plan: Dorante has had the same bright idea.
The Game of Love and Chance has been subject to many adaptations over the years, but Pothitos is sticking with the original setting. "There's no heavy concept on it," he says. "I don't feel I have to find the audience parallels to anything else. It has a very contemporary feel."
That is a rather refreshing thing to hear from a director, but how do you sell Marivaux to those who don't know him? At his inaugural press conference, with 400 people in attendance, Pothitos simply told his audiences to give him a try. "I said, 'You just come see it and I bet you'll have a wonderful time," he says. "They've given me a chance, which is great."
The Game of Love and Chance continues at Neptune Theatre in Halifax until Sunday.