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A CurtainUp Review
Love and Intrigue

I forget what first brought me to your house.
You were wanting flute lessons.
And I set eyes on your daughter.
— Exchange between the aristocratic Ferdinand and Herr Miller, the peasant music master, in Schiller's Love and Intrigue

Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Luise amd Danila Kozlovsky as Ferdinand (Photo: Sephanie Berger)
It's hard to imagine a more cunningly erotic start than the first moments of Love and Intrigue, the Friedrich von Schiller drama, directed by Lev Dodin, which is currently on view at BAM's Harvey Theater. This eye-pleasing spectacle of autumnal colors — gold, sepia, and bronze — opens with Luise Miller (Elizaveta Boyarskaya), a beautiful adolescent, encountering Fredinand Von Walter (Danila Kozlovsky), who's a few years her senior and indisputably in his prime.

Standing at opposite ends of a long refectory table, the two regard each other — well, what would be the most accurate adverb here? "Smolderingly," perhaps; or "hungrily"? Let's keep it simple and just say they regard each other with a gaze that lingers. Then bam! Dodin's direction dispenses with subtlety as Ferdinand dives onto the table, coasting smoothly on his torso from one end to the other, meeting Luise in a tender yet voluptuous kiss. And with Ferdinand's extravagant slide into Luise's embrace, the action blasts off.

Ferdinand is the son of President Von Walter, chief councilor to the ruler of a European duchy. This Duke, who's an off-stage character, is about to wed a foreign princess for political advantage, but has no intention of ending his long-term affair with Lady Milford (Ksenya Rappoport). Consequently, a respectable husband is needed as cover — or "beard" — for Lady Milford's continued alliance with the Duke. The ambitious President reasons that, if he can get Lady Milford to marry Ferdinand, she will be a handy tool to give her new father-in-law greater influence over the Duke. Unfazed by the notion of pimping out his son for careerist leverage, the President arranges the nuptials of Ferdinand and the Duke's mistress without mentioning a word to the proposed bridegroom.

The President has no inkling of Ferdinand's devotion to Luise Miller, daughter of a mere music master. The President's secretary (Oleg Dmitriev) — appropriately named Wurm (German for "worm") — is also enamored of Luise. He inflames his boss by disclosing that Ferdinand is involved with a girl of lowly station. And, as the play's title predicts, abundant intriguing ensues, with the President threatening the Millers with prison and worse, and Wurm threatening that Luise's parents will die unless she marries him. (Luise's parents are played touchingly by Sergey Kuryshev and Tatiana Shestakova.)

Schiller's work, which dates from 1784 and is the basis of Verdi's opera Luisa Miller, is a drama of class conflict and societal injustice. The original title is Kabale und Liebe, which may be translated as "scheming and love." Dodin, adaptor as well as director of this production from the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, has reversed those nouns, putting love ahead of intrigue.

Dodin has streamlined the play's text and directed his actors to emphasize the fervor of the young couple's relationship and the parental devotion of the elder Millers. The intricate political machinations of Schiller's plot are intact, but this production's sensuality throbs louder than the creaking of the play's dramatic gears. In altering the play's title, Dodin might have substituted "passion" (or "infatuation" or even "obsession") for that first noun, "love." This is a production in which passion of one kind or another, whether positive or negative, is always in evidence.

Dodin has reduced Schiller's vast tragedy to a series of streamlined scenes, with the principal characters confronting each other like adversaries in a debate. In many sequences, the actors address the audience instead of each other; and in some instances they cavort atop refectory tables (there are several), which are carried on and off by actor-stagehands in white dinner jackets. At some points, this production has the grandeur of opera; at others, it's as rambunctiously elegant as scherzo ballet. But throughout the performance the members of the Maly troupe operate at an emotional pitch that may vary to some extent but is always fevered.

Alexander Borovsky's scenic design is as spare as Dodin's version of the play's text. For much of the two-hour performance, the stage is bare except for those refectory tables that come and go. Near the end, other furniture and props appear: numerous chairs, white linen table cloths, flower arrangements, and crystal decanters filled with red wine. That wine, as might be predicted from the moment it appears, ends up on the white linen in a figurative, though entirely effective, representation of the violent conclusion of Schiller's tragedy.

The costumes, also by Borovsky, are similarly striking. They're black, white, and elegantly simple in design. Perhaps the designer intends them to represent the late eighteenth century, when Schiller was at work; but that's unlikely. With their dinner jackets and flowing white gowns, the actors seem to exist apart from any specific historical period. This makes the tyrannical doings in the duchy and the cruelty of the President and his factotum Wurm feel all the more relevant to our own day. According to Dodin's high concept production, love and passion are the only available counterweight to all the evil in Schiller's fictional universe — and, presumably, in our grim modern world, as well.

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Love and Intrigue
Written by Friedrich Schiller
Adapted and directed by Lev Dodin
Translated from German into Russian by Nikolay Liubimov
English surtitles by Francine Yorke
Cast: Elizaveta Boyarskaya (Luise Miller, June 6-13); Igor Chernevich (Wurm at some performances, President Von Walter at some performances); Oleg Dmitriev (Wurm at some performances); Igor Ivanov (President Von Walter at some performances); Danila Kozlovsky (Ferdinand Von Walter); Sergey Kuryshev (Miller); Ksenya Rappoport (Lady Milford); Tatiana Shestakova (Luise's mother); Ekaterina Tarasov (Luise Miller, June 14-16); Arthur Kozin, Leonid Luzenko, Evgeny Sannikov, Stanislav Tkachenko, Evgeny Serzin, and Nikita Vasiliev (President's security)
Design (sets and costumes) by Alexander Borovsky
Lighting Design by Damir Ismagilov
Artistic Collaboration: Valery Galendeev
Assistant Director: Oleg Dmitriev
Stage Manager: Natalia Rudika
Presented by the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia
BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St., Brooklyn)
Running Time: Two hours without intermission
From 6/6/18; Closing 6/16/18
Reviewed by Charles Wright at 6/6/18 press preview.

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