by Carol Rocamora
Every generation brings a new director to the world stage who changes the way we view the classics, whether it be Euripides, Shakespeare, or Moliere.
Such praise belongs to the world-renowned Lev Dodin, artistic director of the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia since 1975. We’ve been fortunate to experience his groundbreaking interpretations of Chekhov here at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with his recent productions of Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.
This spring, Dodin sheds new light on the work of another great playwright. He brings his stellar company to BAM in his arresting version of Friedrich Schiller’s Love and Intrigue, an 18th century German masterpiece that couldn’t be more timely to revive.
Watching Dodin’s masterful interpretation of this dark tale of love and power, you’ll be reminded of Romeo & Juliet and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with the political machinations of Richard III thrown in. The plot concerns Ferdinand (Danila Kozlovsky), whose father (Igor Ivanov), a powerful President, wants his son to marry the Duke’s mistress (Ksenya Rappaport), for political reasons that will benefit both his boss and himself. But Ferdinand has fallen in love with a music teacher’s daughter, the lovely Luise Miller (Elizaveta Boyarskaya) – someone far below his “station,” according to his father. The tragedy is two-fold – two lovers torn apart, and a father-son relationship fractured.
The twisted plot advances through the Machiavellian maneuvering of Wurm, the President’s appropriately named secretary (played by (Igor Chernevich), who ensnares the tragic lovers in a political net too intricate to untangle here. Suffice it to say, it all ends badly (no spoiler, since you know it’s a tragedy already). But it’s spectacular to watch, thanks to Dodin’s distinctive directorial hand.
Dodin, a director in the Peter Brook minimalist tradition, offers a spare, bronze-lit stage (designed by Alexander Borovsky) with a majestic back wall slashed by vertical beams of gold (designed by Damir Ismagilov, mirroring the slashing of familial and romantic ties). The company is costumed severely in black and white. A corps of political aides (who also double as servants) bring in long wooden tables that serve as platforms for love-making, dancing, drinking, and, ultimately, acts of violence. The aides move these tables around the stage as the plot thickens, and the cumulative effect – as they set the tables for the final scene, with dozens of candelabras and gleaming glassware – is mesmerizing.
As the conflicted Ferdinand, Koslovsky cuts a dashing romantic figure, and Boyarskaya’s beautiful Luise radiates a courage and nobility that matches Shakespeare’s doomed heroines (Juliet and Desdemona). As Lady Milford, the duke’s mistress, Rappaport provides welcome comic relief as she attempts to seduce the defenseless Ferdinand. Her flamboyant tabletop dancing offers some of the production’s unexpectedly amusing moments. Chernevich, as Wurm, is appropriately slippery, and Tatiana Shestakova and Sergey Kuryshev, as Luise’s parents, offer poignant portrayals.
As a master interpreter of Chekhov, Dodin understands the farcical elements embedded in tragedy. By infusing Schiller’s tragic tale with moments of ironic humor and stylized movement, Dodin underscores the dark theme of the abuse of power and how it reduces people to puppets and pawns.
In the final moments of this 135-minute Russian language production (with English surtitles), Dodin adds an unexpected yet illuminating coda. His statement about the consequences of political tyranny catapults us all too painfully into the present.
“Great literature is bottomless,” Dodin has remarked elsewhere. “Like life, it’s unknowable.” Thanks to this visionary director and his pointed warning, now we know (if we didn’t already).
Photos: Stephanie Berger
Love and Intrigue, by Friedrich Schiller, directed by Lev Dodin, in a Maly Drama Theatre production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, through June 16