FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Robbers.
The FSU/Asolo Conservatory frequently makes play choices that are challenging, both for its students and its audiences. Case in point: the current production of Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers, a seldom-seen (in America at least) work from 1781 that is a key example of the German sturm und drang movement.
Schiller was only 22 when he wrote the play, and full of a fervor that is frequently emulated by the cast of second-year MFA students tackling this piece (under the direction of David Kennedy) at the Cook Theatre. While The Robbers is certainly a ripe old melodrama by today’s standards (and replete with operatic improbabilities that made it a natural for Verdi to adapt for his I masnadieri), it’s also a philosophical discussion about what men might do when faced with injustice and political corruption.
Central to the story are two brothers, Franz (Brendan Ragan) and Karl (Christopher Williams), sons of a father (Jesse Dornan) whose favoritism and weakness have created an epic battle between the siblings. Franz turns out to be a villain worthy of Shakespeare (by whom Schiller was certainly influenced; you’ll see traces of Iago and Richard III in Franz’s behavior), cold-bloodedly scheming to have all of his father’s inheritance even if it means dispatching both him and Karl to an early death. Karl has been a rebellious youth, not without indiscretions, but one whose heart truly belongs to the loyal Amalia (Brittany Proia), a symbol of goodness and one that Franz naturally tries to bend to his own will. Unfortunately, Karl’s heart also leads him to form a band of outlaws willing to consider acts of terrorism to rage against what 1960s radicals would have called simply “the system.”
In fact, director Kennedy makes use of musical and style references to the ’60s and the later punk era to demonstrate what’s already inherent in the script: that this story of youthful idealism, too often converted to methods as ruthless and doctrinaire as those of the enemy state, plays out repeatedly over the centuries. Karl and his band find themselves making increasingly troubling choices in their bid to overthrow the status quo, and it’s a sure bet that everything is going to end badly.
It sounds intriguing enough, and at times it is, as the students throw themselves whole-heartedly into their angst-ridden roles amid shifting balances of power. But most 21st-century audiences will not want to sit still for the extremely talky three hours (including intermission) the production takes to present its debates. With all due respect to Schiller, probably nearly a half hour of cuts (especially in the 90-minute-long first act) could have been made without losing either the pith or flavor of the play. It’s possible that director Kennedy and adaptor Klaus Van Den Berg did make some cuts from the original five acts (audiences were apparently sturdier folk in the 18th century than they are now), but more are called for in order not to bore and exhaust a long-suffering audience—one that’s ready for the inevitable tragic conclusion long before it comes.
The Robbers continues through March 11; call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.