COURTESY OF ANDREW
Two brothers are driven to extremes in
Friedrich Schiller's play, "The Robbers." Pictured from
left: Scot Davis, Colleen Lanki and Ken Uehara.
for political strife
Big Island rappers Sudden Rush told
their foes in the local music industry last year that "If this song
offends you, then it's you we're talking about." Markus Wessendorf,
professor of theater at UH-Manoa, says that German playwright Friedrich
Schiller used the same technique over 200 years ago when he attacked
autocratic authoritarian rule with his first play, "The Robbers," in
'The Robbers'Where: Kennedy Theatre,
When: 8 p.m. today and
tomorrow, and May 1 to 3; and 2 p.m. May
Note: 7 p.m. pre-show discussions
on various aspects of Schiller's work will be held
before the Friday and Saturday performances
"Schiller was (living) in Stuttgart at that point and couldn't attack
the authoritarian ruler personally, so he had to transfer the location
(to Nuremberg). It was such a strong attack on autocratic authoritarian
rule and society ... (the play) was really interpreted as a major
rebellion against tyranny (and) that was Schiller's intent," Wessendorf
explained during a phone interview late Monday afternoon.
Wessendorf is directing an experimental multimedia production of
Schiller's classic, set in a very timely and contemporary setting.
Kennedy Theatre will be transformed into "Kennedy Airport" and the
performance will include security guards, FBI agents, stranded air
travelers and suspected terrorists. Three overhead video screens will
show live interviews of various characters.
It sounds like the biggest and most ambitious UH-Manoa theatrical
production since Dennis Carroll directed an epic 6-hour staging of
"Faust" two years ago. Wessendorf arrived in Hawaii a few months too
late to see Carroll's tremendous tribute to Goethe's masterpiece, but
sees a connection or two between the two productions, beyond the obvious
similarities in the size and scope.
"Schiller and Goethe are basically to German theater what Shakespeare
is to the English-speaking world, and ("The Robbers") is actually very
Shakespeare-influenced. The rogue character is very much based on
Richard III. It is one of the major classics of German drama, a play
that has always fascinated me."
UH student actor Scot Davis stars as Karl von Moor, a idealistic
college student who becomes the leader of a gang of robbers after his
scheming younger brother, Franz (Jeremy Pippin), prevents him from
returning to the court of his father (Blake Kushi).
"It's a play about political violence and disillusioned students
that, more or less, naively form this gang of robbers that inadvertently
crosses a line into crime, murder and terrorism. I was looking for a
play that would resonate with the current geopolitical situation, but of
course I made the decision a year ago, and the situation has changed
quite dramatically since then."
So much so, in fact, he says, that less than two months ago, he was
asked if he might want to change the play and do something that wouldn't
"resonate" quite as much. Wessendorf stayed true to his original concept
and kept the project on track as American and British forces were moved
towards the invasion and subsequent conquering of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
WESSENDORF says that the issues the Schiller addressed in "The
Robbers" gives the play an appeal that transcends everyday political
"Schiller has always been popular in Germany ... but 'The Robbers'
has always been really popular during times of political turmoil. It was
popular in the 1920s. There was a famous Marxist production ... which
was kind of a Trotskyite version, which basically was centered around
the one militant, most radical, robber among the characters. And then
again it was very popular in the '60s among the time of the student
movement. There were four or five productions then."
Schiller's play was also popular in the waning days of the
neo-Stalinist German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany.
"I saw a big production of the play by the leading East German
director a year after the (Berlin) wall came down, but he also had
originally staged the play as a critique of the communist regime in East
Germany in 1988. It was very popular because it was the only way, in a
very subtle way, to critique the government. You can inflect the speech
or make certain gestures indicating a certain character that the
audience clearly links to politicians, while the censors very often are
not able to find anything substantial (in the script)."
Wessendorf is presenting "The Robbers" as a play-within-a-play that's
being staged in a lounge in an international airport, post Sept. 11,
2001. A group of dancers choreographed by Betsy Fisher will also be
performing as passengers waiting for a delayed flight.
"I don't want to boast here, but I think it's a really ambitious
project. The set is probably the largest set that Kennedy Theatre has
seen in two decades. There are at least three major choreographies that
happen concurrently to other stage action in the play. Usually the
(theater and dance) departments go their own ways, so we're really
making an attempt to collaborate between the theatre and dance people.
"We have three video screens suspended above the stage and they are
also quite central to the story -- some of the monologues are basically
spoken to cameras as if they were being interviewed on CNN ... so
there's video imagery commenting about what's happening on stage.
"But even though there are all these kind of elements that are not
necessarily mainstream theater, the idea is still to communicate the
story. I'm still very much concerned about getting the story across,"
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