Stage review: 'Prussia: 1866' a delirious romp at The Rep
February 10, 2015 4:23 PM
Laura Lee Brautigam portrays Mariska, the trophy wife of writer Heinrich von Klamp, played by Philip Winters in "Prussia, 1866."
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The title “Prussia: 1866” does nothing to convey the silly-smart sex farce having its introduction at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Google the title, and the first thing you get is a history lesson on the Seven Weeks War, a conflict for the unification of Germany, yada yada yada.
Better to have called it “To Prussia With Love” or “Prussia With a Passion” or something that says you’re in for a bawdy night of theater, with a little historical context on the side.
The Rep production of Gab Cody’s new work is set in that time and reflects the social, political and moral attitudes of the day without dwelling on them too much, as there are love and lust to pursue, glass ceilings to rage against and mayhem to be indulged.
Where: The Rep at the Rauh Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland.
When: Through Feb. 22. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $24-$27; www.pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000. "Pay what you will" at Saturday matinees, subject to availability; talk-back 2 p.m. Saturday.
Three women use their wits and wiles to keep the men in their lives in check during a celebratory day for the Prussian victors of the aforementioned war. They are the coquettish wife of a famous novelist and lover to his infatuated young assistant, a suffragette who aspires to a man’s place at the table and a liberated poet who lives on her own terms.
Mariska, the trophy wife of eminent writer Heinrich von Klamp (Philip Winters) is played with gusto by Laura Lee Brautigam, making a welcome return to the stage after a three-year hiatus. She is a diminutive match for any man or woman in her way. Rosemary, Heinrich’s pipe-smoking assistant, is played by playwright Cody as an educated activist with an agenda. The poet Griselda Eberstark, as portrayed by Mary Rawson, makes a welcome entrance late in the first act and reveals a secret that further entwines the mad goings-on in Heinrich’s home.
The play takes place on Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s attractive and nimble set, with central pocket doors that often open or close as they would on the Starship Enterprise.
Our first contact with the household is Mariska, whose whimsical wig would honor a Dr. Seuss character. Next comes shaggy Fritz (Drew Palajsa, last seen on the Rauh Theater stage as a Point Park student), Heinrich’s protege who is identified in the program as the philosopher Nietzsche, although it’s never mentioned in the play. The young couple are quickly tangled in lovemaking when her husband arrives from a parade in his honor. Fritz emerges from under a blanket, naked, as Heinrich fumbles around without his glasses. When he deems to cover himself, Fritz has only the ever-present book in his hand to accomplish the task.
The first act drags a bit as double entendres are piled on thickly and plot pieces unfold. Mariska tells Heinrich that Fritz is smitten with her but she does not return his feelings. Fritz, who believes she feels otherwise, vows to prove she loves him. He joins forces with Rosemary, who is livid after learning that Heinrich has changed the ending of a book they worked on together.
In a late-arriving twist, Sam Turich drops in as The American Delegate, ostensibly to talk with Heinrich about the war in terms of the North and South back home. With Mr. Turich and Ms. Rawson aboard, the second act picks up the pace. Now everyone is in on the amorous action, including Hayley Nielsen, making the most of her role as a maid and a devout Christian who harbors a passion for Fritz.
“Prussia: 1866” achieves a fever pitch of delirium before a couple of last-minute revelations. Theatergoers may just exit smiling, and the owners of nuggets of historical knowledge, too.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. SEberson_pg.
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