Shakespeare Theatre Company WallensteinBy Bob Ashby • Apr 19th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Shakespeare Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Sidney Harman Hall, Washington DC
Through May 31st
2:30 with one intermission
$43-$105 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed April 17th, 2013
In Shakespeare Theater Company’s always-informative “Asides” publication, Robert Pinsky, who translated, adapted, and condensed Friedrich Schiller’s 1798 11-hour saga on the career of 30 Years’ War general Albrecht Wallenstein, spends much of his article discussing German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s approach to theater. Well that he should. This Wallenstein, directed by Michael Kahn, is a very Brechtian take on the material. Frequent breaches of the fourth wall are to be expected; realism in acting, seeking to encourage the audience to identify emotionally with the characters, is not the objective. The play’s language is very modern, colloquial, and frequently ironic. While admirably clear, the language, given that its original author and adaptor are both well-regarded poets, is surprisingly unpoetic.
The most interesting Brechtian touch is Pinsky’s creation of “Dead Wallenstein,” an incarnation of Steve Pickering’s protagonist who, illuminated by Mark McCullough’s green lighting, speaks directly to the audience, commenting sardonically on the action and characters of the play and calling the audience’s attention to its lessons for the present time (e.g., drawing a parallel between 17th century Europeans’ allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor and Americans’ veneration of the Constitution). If there is a lesson implicit in the play, such as the folly of seeking greatness too single-mindedly, Dead Wallenstein is there to state it explicitly. Likewise, the ensemble’s repeated, heavily ironic invocation of a portion of Schiller’s poem “Hope” is as Brechtian as a chorus from The Threepenny Opera.
If Wallenstein dead is steeped in irony, Wallenstein alive, within the fourth wall, is a creature of unbounded ego, rising to near-megalomaniacal proportions in his speech concluding the first act. Pickering gives to the character something of the adolescent who combines an unquenchable desire for omnipotence with a feeling of invulnerability. At the same time, Pickering’s characterization shows why Wallenstein, who knows his soldiers by name and takes good care of them, is an effective military leader. Cleverer than most of his adversaries, and able to best them in conversational combat, Wallenstein is also blind to the peril into which their plotting – and his own — puts him.
Betrayal, and the mixture of motives leading to it, are major themes in the play. Wallenstein betrays the Emperor by making common cause with the Swedish enemy, out of mixed desires for power and peace. His old friend Octavio (Robert Sicular), from a combination of ambition and attachment to the legitimacy of political arrangements that the Emperor represents, betrays Wallenstein. Wallenstein has betrayed Colonel Bailey (an excellent Chris Hietkko) by underhandedly blocking his desired promotion. Upon learning this, Bailey, previously a Wallenstein loyalist, turns on his erstwhile leader. In a low comic scene somewhat uncomfortably setting up the play’s final act of violence, Bailey then finds it easy to persuade a pair of bumbling soldiers (Reginald Andre Jackson and Glen Parnell) to abandon their allegiance to Wallenstein for reasons well short of lofty. Only Octavio’s son Max (Nick Dillenburg) is pure of heart and romantically idealistic, traits not conducive to survival in the play’s John le Carre-like world of conspiracy, treachery, and treason. All the talk of treason inevitably raises the questions of to whom loyalty is owed and when and on what basis it may rightly be abandoned, questions the play leaves for the audience’s consideration.
The performances by the large cast were consistently strong. Of particular note are Diane D’Aquila as Wallenstein’s powerful sister and Derrick Lee Weeden as the not terrifically bright and often drunken General Kolibas. The ensemble, convincingly dressed in armor in many scenes, move well together and are a credible representation of the large army that Wallenstein commands. For a play taking place during Europe’s most destructive war before World War I, there is little stage combat, and much of the play’s violence takes place offstage, heard but not seen. The play is not a military history lesson; as Dead Wallenstein says to begin the show, “Forget the 30 Years’ War.” The conflict that matters is in the minds of the characters.
The production uses the same brutalist concrete set used for Coriolanus, with the addition of a few elements, notably a large flown-in astrological representation of the solar system (Wallenstein was a convinced believer in astrology). While fully functional in Wallenstein, the set probably has greater emotional resonance with the characters and story of Coriolanus. But, in Wallenstein, emotional resonance is not the point.
Playing the shows in repertory gives Shakespeare Theater Company not only the opportunity to employ the same set for both but to give some of the actors a chance to play parallel roles with shades of difference. D’Aquila and Aaryn Kropp get to play, respectively, strong older women and loving, but largely ineffectual, younger women in both. Weeden plays somewhat comic conspirators in both. Sicular is an old friend and advisor to both Coriolanus and Wallenstein, though more avuncular to the former and treacherous to the latter. The Company’s hero/traitor theme for the two plays is the most important commonality, of course. (One wishes there were a top-notch play about Benedict Arnold to create a trilogy on the theme.) While each stands solidly on its own feet, seeing both provides greater food for thought.
(Editor’s Note: For more about Wallenstein, see the STC’s web site articles at Asides)
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Ensemble: John Bambery
- Ensemble/Tiefenbach/Astrologer: Jeffrey Baumgartner
- Roman Senator/Valeria: Lise Bruneau
- Singing Boy: Colin Carmody
- Ensemble/Goetz: Andrew Criss
- Volumnia/Countess: Diane D’Aquila*
- Ensemble: Philip Dickerson
- Max: Nick Dillenburg
- Ensemble/Swedish Captain: Avery Glymph
- Questenberg/Gordon: Philip Goodwin
- Bailey: Chris Hietikko
- Macdonald/Ensemble: Reginald Andre Jackson
- Ensemble: Jacqui Jarrold
- Thekla: Aaryn Kopp
- Ensemble: Michael Leicht
- Ensemble : Joe Mallon
- Lundquist/Devereux: Glen Pannell
- Wallenstein: Steve Pickering
- Ensemble: Max Reinhardsen
- Harvaty: Brian Russell
- Czerny: Michael Santo
- Octavio: Robert Sicular
- Ensembl: Jjana Valentiner
- Kolibas: Derrick Lee Weeden
- Ensemble: Jaysen Wright
- Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
- Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
- Movement Consultant : Diane Coburn Bruning
- Voice and Text Coach: Ellen O’Brien
- Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
- Vocal Music Coach : Jenny Lord
- Assistant Director : Gus Heagerty
- Directorial Assistant: Robert Lutfy
- Production Stage Manager : Joseph Smelser
- Assistant Stage Manager: Hannah R. O’Neil
- Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley
Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9391.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.