Prussia:1866 at The REP | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Prussia:1866 at The REP

It's worth a second, even third visit to absorb and enjoy such intelligent humor

Prussia: 1866 is definitely for grown-ups only. I refer not to the bit of full-frontal nudity and sexual byplay in locally based playwright Gab Cody's new comedy, but to the wealth of philosophical, political and literary ideas mixed with a French-style farce. The REP's lively production, spritely directed by Kim Martin, is worth a second, even third visit to absorb and enjoy such intelligent humor.

The premise posits a young, Byron-esque Friedrich Nietzsche in an early-pondering mode regarding aesthetics, ethics, morality, etc. — while shtupping his elderly mentor's young wife. Yes, Nietzsche ("Fritz" in the play) really did live in Prussia in 1866, when he was 22, the playwright assures us. While I would bet that at least some of the dialogue is truly Nietzschean (it's been a while since I slogged through Thus Spake Zarathustra), the rest is delightfully heady fiction.

The fast-paced plot matters far less than the distinctively zany characters delivering crisp dialogue in preposterous situations. The cast hasn't any weak spots. Drew Palajsa portrays a puppy-ish Fritz whose appetites for sex, poetry and philosophy war with each other yet remain unsated. As his paramour Mariska, Laura Lee Brautigam draws on native ingenuity, physical agility and the attitude of a "great beauty" of the era.

click to enlarge Laura Lee Brautigam and Drew Palajsa
Photo courtesy of Jeff Swensen
Laura Lee Brautigam and Drew Palajsa in Prussia: 1866, at the REP

As both playwright and actor, Cody echoes The Importance of Being Earnest in shaping Mariska's relationship with Rosemary (Cody), the pipe-smoking women's-rights champion who's employed as an assistant to Heinrich Von Klamp. The pomposity of that military hero, cuckolded husband and popular writer is well captured by Philip Winters. In smaller but key roles, Sam Turich (also fight director) brings elegant confusion to "the American delegate," and Mary Rawson conjures the image of the flagship of a marauding armada as — let's not spoil the surprise.

The production is gorgeous. The clever doors punctuate the multi-leveled and beautifully furnished set designed by Stephanie Mayer-Staley. Cathleen Crocker-Perry's costumes not only look good but also define their characters. (Note Rosemary's culottes and Mariska's perfect period look, especially the hair.)

Given my definition of perfect escapism — "well-dressed, well-spoken people misbehaving" — Prussia: 1866 is not to be missed.

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