Category: Homburg (6)
Jorge Cacheiro, in adapting Heinrich von Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg with his MSU theater students, reimagines the piece with Kleist as an onstage character. Off to the sides of this sober, lichen-colored set, we see a young man pacing and mimicking the play as it progresses. He mutters interjections (lines from Kleist’s other writings and not part of the original play) and interacts with the lead characters. Downstage there are model soldiers, as if the set itself is a giant dollhouse, a toy box for the fevered imagination of Kleist himself. This addition is an interesting parallel to the main character, the eponymous Prince of the title. The Prince is tortured: should he obey his army superiors’ commands in battle, or should he pursue the other side’s troupes as he was expressly forbidden? There’s battle on one hand and love on the other, for the Prince continually dreams about the Princess, while he is in battle and after he is in jail for disobeying orders. He is plagued by tactical choices and romantic issues that cloud his judgment and his mind’s eye. Kleist is comparable to the Prince himself—both are dreamers and fear the future; Kleist ultimately took his own life, which is why it makes such sense for Cacheiro to juxtapose the two.
The big issues to look for in this production are group obeisance versus freewill, the present moment versus how one sees oneself and is perceived, and the act of artistic manipulation. Kleist rips his writing off the walls of the set, and the room deteriorates in the second half. Both are visual manifestations of the themes that Kleist and Cacheiro—even the Prince himself—explore together.
Raphael Martin has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, Gate Theatre, and Bush Theatre, all in London. Most recently, he was Literary Manager at New York City’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
When I interviewed director Jorge Cacheiro almost two months ago regarding his take on the then-upcoming production of Homburg, he told me, “I hope [the audience] leave[s] thinking about what they are seeing…and [are] intrigued.” Clearly, he achieved this goal—leaving the theater on opening night, I witnessed throngs of people discussing what they had just seen and debating what it all meant—all clearly moved by what they had just experienced.
And it is an experience—a gripping, dramatic, intense experience with an eeriness that pervades the entire piece. Even before the show begins, the scene is instantly set by a mysterious figure moving across the stage and appearing to quite literally write on the walls. We eventually learn that this man represents the play’s author, and it is through his eyes—and his words, as expressed in his real-life letters, which are read throughout the show—that we view the rest of the action in the play.
As if the interweaving of texts weren’t compelling enough on its own, the show utilizes a combination of technical elements that draws the audience right in, casting a dreamlike haze over the entire production. The sweeping stage, dreamy lighting, echoing sounds, and incredibly effective use of music combine with the actors to create a breathtaking visual. What you will witness is a true work of art that encompasses so many different elements—but at its heart tells a beautiful, thought-provoking story with a profound message concerning order, individualism, and the conflict that lies therein.
Kelly Karcher is an MSU undergraduate in her third year of the B.F.A. Musical Theatre program. While at MSU, she has performed in several productions and most recently served as dramaturg for MSU’s Fall ‘08 production of Crazy for You.
On the eve of Homburg’s opening, production dramaturg Neil Baldwin shares journal excerpts from the final week of rehearsals.
Mar. 3: One week to go. I noticed afresh the motif of freedom. So many times through the play this thread appears, as it does throughout the aesthetic of Romanticism. We are only as “free” as we think we are—or as others with (ostensibly) more power decide we are. Freedom, in this Kleist-world, is relative and interdependent; one person’s freedom is another’s consternation/inhibition.
As when, in Act IV, Princess Natalie goes to see her uncle, the Elector, to plead for the release of her lover, Homburg… Tonight was about the contesting nature of the dialogue, the fact that Natalie comes to present a case and therefore needs to maintain her composure within a certain range, whereas the Elector, because of his finely tuned consciousness of his station, has likewise to keep some reserve even as he struggles with empathy for his beloved niece. “Heart” battles with “mind” within both characters—”Fatherland” vs. “blood,” leaping back and forth as the advantage is seized then relinquished, by one and then the other. Read more »
In this third installment of excerpts from his Homburg production journal, dramaturg Neil Baldwin gives a taste of the first month of rehearsals.
Jan. 14: Today in my inbox received set sketches from Erhard [set designer Erhard Rom]. The first impression was as if they had emanated from inside the brain of Heinrich von Kleist—as if the set was a manifestation of what someone else was thinking: “walls” evocative of manuscript pages ripped open to reveal the actual brick wall of the theater and, on the floor, magnified sheets of paper strewn about, the rejects of the author’s fevered brain. In another view, Erhard had placed a strip of script handwriting around the walls at molding level, with Kleist positioned in front of the writing as if he had walked out from the words, been made flesh by them…. These are supremely literate visual interpretations wherein the stage is a text to be read.
Jan. 20: First rehearsal. Jorge [director Jorge Cacheiro] started by delineating the course of the journey and the main themes as he envisioned them: that The Prince of Homburg is one of the great plays of theatrical literature; that it is a really difficult piece (he said it as a challenge, not a threat); that it is the classic story of one man’s struggle between the exercise of his free will and the pressures to fall in line with the rest; that it is equally going to be (in our production) a meditation on the dynamics of making a work of art, following the artist’s way instead of the proscribed mores of one’s society. In Jorge’s adaptation/rendition, the author Kleist has been added as a character within the drama. Thus, the audience will become privy to Kleist’s inner world grafted upon the dramatic construct of the preexisting play…. Read more »
Homburg dramaturg Neil Baldwin chronicles his inquiry into the life and writings of Heinrich von Kleist, in this second installment of excerpts from Neil’s production journal.
Nov. 13: Jorge [director Jorge Cacheiro] asked me to find “texts” from the Kleist play [The Prince of Homburg] and from his letters, as well as from Christa Wolf’s novel No Place on Earth. We spent a hurried fifteen minutes in my office talking about Kafka (The Trial), Kant (dialectic), Wagner (bombastic music), and other German cultural matters of mutual interest.
p>Nov. 15: Woke up today thinking about the endless “journeying” of Kleist—his peripatetic, obligatory, Romantic wanderjahr throughout continental Europe, all while resolving to be a writer; yet, when you get down to it, his productive period really only spans five years. Everywhere he went, Kleist found it difficult to remain focused, and there is still debate to this day about what he actually did do in some of the places he went (i.e., was he a spy…or some such). Read more »