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A CurtainUp Review

Intrigue and Love
By Jenny Sandman

While revered by the Germans, Friedrich von Schiller's plays are s difficult to adapt to modern sensibilities and settings. They must be enjoyed in their own right, as long and dated but spirited. In many ways, they are like an old pair of slippers -- outdated, but comfortable, and just right for rainy days.

Intrigue and Love (1784), one of Schiller's more famous works. It well known as the Verdi opera Luisa Miller, but it's also a landmark in Western drama in which the playwright abandoned the traditional structure (neoclassical tragedy) in favor of a social and political portrait of his time.

The play combines a star-crossed lovers story with a class struggle theme. Major Ferdinand von Walter and Louisa Miller are desperately in love, but he is a nobleman and she is part of the emerging bourgeoisie, daughter to a music teacher. Ferdinand's father, the heartless Premier Minister, wants him to marry Lady Milford, mistress to the Prince. Ferdinand refuses, wanting to marry Louisa, and the Baron tries to force his son's hand. The Baron conspires with Wurm, the court secretary (who wants Louisa for himself), and soon they spin a web of intrigue that drives the lovers apart, Louisa's parents into jail, and the Prince's mistress across the border. Of course, in this sort of stuum and drang drama there's only one way such a story can end -- and it's not a happy one..

Jean Cocteau Repertory's newly commissioned translation by Lynn Marie Macy is a little stilted ("Look upon me, dearest Ferdinand. . .Let my willing sacrifice be my consolation. Can you deny me this last request?"). But, given the source, that's to be expectedr.

The cast does well, the pace is swift, and for the most part the dialogue doesn't sound mannered or pretentious. Director David Fuller has obviously done his research. Indeed, the cast as a whole seems to show a dramaturgical depth.

It's a large cast for such a small stage, but they work well together. Ferdinand and Luisa (Chad A. Suitts and Natalie Ballesteros) don't have quite the fundamental chemistry to make them the most convincing of lovers. Alarmingly, the doomed mistress (Amanda Jones) shows more passion than her rival for Ferdinand's hand. Despite their lesser roles the two fathers (Jay Nickerson and Angus Hepburn) are more charismatic and memorable. This will not surprise anyone who saw the Cocteau's Pygmalion in which Angus Hepburn also stole the stage as Eliza Doolittle's father . Michael Carnahan's set consists of partially deconstructed draperies and broken mirrors. It's an interesting and evocative backdrop that suggests the squalor beneath the splendor of the class system. However, it almost clashes with the play's reality. A slightly more realistic set might have fit the play better. Fortunately the few props are period and match the colorful and accurate, if occasionally ill-fitting, costumes.

At two hours and forty-five minutes, with two intermissions, this dense historical drama commands a full evening or afternoon. Perhaps Intrigue and Love is best saved for that rainy day.

Written by Friedrich von Schiller
Translated by Lynn Marie Macy
Directed by David Fuller
With Sara Jeanne Asselin, Natalie Ballesteros, Angus Hepburn, Amanda Jones, David Ledoux, Lynn Marie Macy, Jay Nickerson, Ralph Petrarca, Mickey Ryan and Chad A. Suitts
Set Design by Michael Carnahan
Lighting Design by David Kniep
Costume Design by Sean Sullivan
Sound Design by Charles Berigan
Running time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with two ten-minute intermissions
Jean Cocteau Repertory, 330 Bowery, 212-279-4200.
02/11/05 through 05/22/05
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