by Lynn on February 7, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Prince of Homburg

At the Mady Centre, Barrie, Ont.

Written by Heinrich von Kleist

Directed by James Kudelka

Set and Lighting by Nick Blais

Costumes and Props by Joe Pagnan

Sound by John Gzowski

Starring: Wayne Best

Wade Bogert O’Brien

Brandon Crone

Katherine Cullen

Ryan Field

Amir Haidar

Brad Hodder

Alex Poch-Goldin

Brian Tree

Jean Yoon

A play full of mystery, intrigue, confusion, given a rare production.

The Story.  The play was written by Heinrich von Kleist in 1811 and is set in 1675. The Prince of Homburg leads a charge against the Swedes and wins the battle. The problem is that the Elector, the leader of the troops, didn’t give the order to charge. The Prince must face the consequences. The law says he must die for disobeying orders. The Prince’s contemporaries in the military plead for mercy. His girlfriend, Princess Natalia of Orange, pleads for mercy too. To complicate matters Natalia is the niece of the Elector. The Elector is faced with a dilemma. Does he follow the law or does he give into his niece and the others’ pleading for mercy? He comes up with an inspired suggestion and a bit of a cowardly one at that.

The Production. In a bold move, Talk Is Free Theatre,’s Artistic Producer, Arkady Spivak, thought that noted choreographer James Kudelka would be an ideal director for this play. Apparently Kudelka brought the play to Spivak. I say “bold” because Kudelka has never directed a play before. He has choreographed ballets elsewhere of coure,  and to some extent that’s direction, but it’s a stretch to say that’s what’s going on here.

Most of the movement seems like geometric blocking. Relationships are not convincingly established for the most part, because of the positioning of actor to actor. I would offer the main reason for this being a less than stellar mounting of The Prince of Homburg  might be Nick Blais’ set. It’s composed of several table structures whose legs can be adjusted so that the table can be changed into a ramp in some scenes, a table in others, other structures by putting the tables together in yet other scenes.

There are several scenes in the play and each is denoted by a different configuration of the tables and those damned table legs. The tables are so heavy that it takes several men to move them.  The men are staged to look like workers or soldier in the play, with uniform, stylized movement (squatting to adjust the legs of the table; tapping the table in unison to indicate the transformation is complete) watching this endless adjustment, movement of the structures and effort, gets tiresome. Enough already. Get rid of the tables and solve the problem another way that is not as time consuming as the scene changes. It almost seems as if most of Kudelka’s efforts went into directing the scene changes.

The production begins with soldiers coming the Prince of Hamburg relaxing and making a ‘crown’ of twigs. They say he is actually asleep but appears awake. When the Prince does become conscious he is charming, good natured taking the teasing of his fellow soldiers and thoughtful. Wade Bogert O’Brien imbues the Prince with a courtly, princely manner. Soft-spoken, thoughtful, contemplative.

While he did lead the charge, he does not strike one as soldier material. Now the Elector, and certainly as played by Wayne Best, is one commanding, in charge guy. He’s efficient, has a bellowing voice when he wants attention and silence, and looks perfectly confident when making snap decisions.

There is a strange moment. When Natalia comes to her uncle to plead for the Prince’s life, Kudelka stages it as if the Elector is coming on to his niece—lots of clutching her close to him. My eyebrows knit at that one. Sexual abuse? Hmmmmm. Not sure that’s supported in the play.

Comment. The Prince of Hamburg is rarely done and there’s a reason for it. The story is obtuse. With its questions of was it all a dream on the part of the Prince? Did he do wrong by leading the charge and winning the battle? Is loyalty a good prize or is it expendable. The dialogue is stodgy and formal.

Talk is Free Theatre affords us similar opportunities to see many provocative plays. Not sure this one is memorable.

Talk Is Free Theatre Presents:

First performance: January 29, 2015

Seen: January 30, 2015.

Closes: February 7, 2015

Cast: 10: 8 men, 2 women

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes.

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