Prussia: 1866 is very much a classic comedy of manners; a high speed, high energy fiasco featuring politics, deception and a number of love affairs. I find myself reminded of the 1939 film Rules of the Game, substitute the seven minute long montage of pheasants being blown out of the sky with a complicated family tree revelation.
A young Friedrich Nietzsche (Drew Palajsa, pictured below) is a student of philosophy, his nose always in a book, hopelessly romancing one doctrine after another. He is not bold, but a skittish, attention hungry young man who’s likeness to a puppy is often discussed. Nietzsche is wrapped in a passionate love affair with Mariska Von Klamp (Laura Lee Brautigam, also pictured below), who can only be described as a china doll from hell. When in proper form, her movements are much like a marionette floating and posing across the stage. When provoked and angered she devolves into a small child, stomping and squealing in fits of rage.
The complication arises because Mariska is the wife of Nietzsche’s mentor, the influential Heinrich Von Klamp (Philip Winters). Heinrich is a leader in the political and philosophical community and Nietzsche studies and lives in Heinrich’s home; a home kept up by an anxious maid named Karoline (Hayley Nielsen) who’s “good protestant girl” values and constant fear of losing her job often have her scurrying away or sobbing.
In enters Rosemary (playwright Gab Cody), the strong, independent woman who has made women her cause. She was an assistant to Von Klamp in writing his novels and other manuscripts. She was part of his rise in popularity but is enraged at his refusal to use his rise in esteem to further the women’s movement she holds so dear. Much of their banter revolves around this betrayal and their different views of gender roles, none of which is particularly novel, but none the less their interactions are entertaining.
The climax comes as Nietzsche’s mother (Mary Rawson) appears on the scene as Heinrich is expecting a visit from the charming American dignitary (Sam Turich), who is also someone’s secret lover. A bottle of absinthe and some bad translations later and the entire company has been reduced to a pack of wild apes.
The script is witty and each character zealous and exaggerated. Much of the time the characters speak lyrically; with these being the educated elite swimming in philosophic texts, translated German poems are recited in expression of life and lust. Nietzsche is a real, historical figure in the philosophy community. Although this story is not meant to portray actual events in his life, his philosophy and quotes are often stitched into the script.
The cast is outstanding, playing each of their roles with energy and consistency. The show is very active, with a lot of chasing, love making and drunken rage and cast is very good in their physical interactions with one another, the stage and the props.
The set was beautifully crafted and used to its full potential. It consisted of a sitting room at center stage with a daybed, an office to the right and dining table on the left. Silhouettes of different animals are framed along the wall, a fur blanket lays across the daybed and silver lines the dining table; extravagance and excess are to be found wherever your eyes may rest.
At the rear were a set of sliding double doors which in themselves could have been a character in the story, swiftly opening and closing upon anyone’s hasty exit or dramatic entrance. In addition to the double doors in the back there are two hidden doorways in the bookcase of the office and wall of the dining room. Every bit of the stage was used; love is made on the desk, books are hurled and the classic farcical chase scene in and out of the doorways and hallways are enjoyed by the audience.
Overall, this show was highly entertaining both through the script and the delivery. While the rise of feminism and the politics of a country torn down the middle are topics of discussion throughout the story, they act more as a backdrop. The themes that playout are more along the lines of the way men are manipulated and the classic mundane woes of the elite.
I would like to extend a special thank you to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for the complementary press tickets to this show. You can see Prussia: 1866 through Sunday, February 22nd and can purchase tickets here. Photo credits: Jeff Swensen
Performance Date: Friday, February 6, 2015