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Apr 30th, 2013

Director’s Words: Wallenstein

by Michael Kahn

Friedrich Schiller is one of the greatest writers of the German theatre, and Wallenstein is considered by many to be Germany’s King Lear. The historical Wallenstein was the most famous general of the Thirty Years’ War. At some point, for private and for political reasons, he turned against his ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor. Schiller’s play treats the fallout. It’s a very exciting play that addresses many issues that remain topical today—including the purpose of war, the cost of war and the fine line between a hero and a traitor.

One of the most exciting things about working on a Schiller play is his relationship to Shakespeare. He loved the sweep of Shakespeare’s plays, their mixture of comedy and tragedy. Wallenstein, like all of Schiller’s plays, has Shakespearean scale. Its subject-matter is grand and its characters are world-historical figures, archetypes of human experience.

I first read Wallenstein a few years ago, after directing Don Carlos. It was such a fulfilling experience that I read all of Schiller’s plays. When I came across Wallenstein, I knew I was looking at something extraordinary. The original Wallenstein is a nine-hour play, in eleven acts. As far as I know, it has never been seen in the United States. The fact that we’re exposing our audiences to such a great play is very important to me and to the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s mission of presenting plays which will hopefully enter the repertory of American classical theatre.

However, I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that the play functions as a piece of drama, not just a history lesson. I hope that if you don’t know anything about the war, you’ll still become engrossed in the play. As a matter of fact, the first line of this version is “Forget about the Thirty Years’ War.” What interests me is the human story, one in which a general disagrees with his country and a tragic standoff ensues. As you might know, there have been some examples of that lately in our own society. In condensing the play down into two acts and two hours, Robert Pinsky, the former Poet Laureate, has done an exceptional job in adapting the original for performance. This is a true world premiere, from one of our greatest poets.

COMMENTS

  • Dear Dear Michael, I am so proud to be able to call you my friend; this is the kind of work that should be done, but you are among the few with the balls to do it. Hooray for the good guys.
    Love always,
    Your great admirer, F Murray Abraham

  • When the opening comment is by an eminence like Mr. Abraham, the rest if us can be hesitant to chime in.

    I just saw Wallenstein tonight and enjoyed it immensely. Like Shakespeare questions are posed here and not often answered. The prologue and epilogue make the play current and relevant. I confess I’m not inclined to read the entire 9-act original work.

    Randy Perry

  • I saw the play yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. As always, very well done. We enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two “traitors,” and talked at length about that line between the hero/traitor and leadership.

    I adore Schiller, but he rambles (it seems extreme feats of endurance were prized in poetry during the Sturm und Drang) – but I love the wry humor when it appears. This manages to keep that quick, sharp turn here and there, and even has a little of the “alienation” that modern German theater is known here for. Interesting and good work. Thank you!

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