It is 1683, and the Turks’ siege on Vienna has finally lifted. But has anything changed in their war-torn society? Will the Hapsburgs return to power, or will the people take hold of a new ideal?
The bewilderment of sudden freedom unites the cast of Whistler in the Dark’s production of “The Europeans” at the Factory Theatre. The intimacy of the theater, careful direction and cunning writing make “The Europeans” a unique, thought-provoking offering this February–not to mention the best ticket price in town.
The cast invites the audience to eavesdrop on a world ripe for change in this engaging play by Howard Barker, a largely overlooked playwright. Barker’s dialogue retains enough of a 20th century style–well-paced and slightly neurotic–to counteract the difficulty and desperation that period drama can evoke. Despite the 17th century situation, the problems of the play are distinctly modern, as are the characters in their views and questions of ambition, heroism and truth.
The time and place of the action is almost incidental; “The Europeans” raises universal questions, as relevant today as they were in 1683. General Starhemberg (Curt Klump), credited with saving Vienna, cannot stomach his heroic standing without further change, while Katrin (Jen O’Conner), a wounded citizen, wears her victimhood with cynicism and shocking action. The Emperor (Nate Grundy) and Empress (Dakota Shepard) transcend their royal ridiculousness with biting lines. Add a disturbingly ambitious priest, fraught citizens, and the fact that everyone is starving, and you’ve got a society ready to implode.
Fog and minimal lighting work wonders in the black box, and the audience’s proximity to the action lets the actors speak in their lowest whisper and still be heard. Director Meg Taintor uses every dark corner effectively. At roughly 2.5 hours, the play does run long; though the actors are on point with their pacing, the middle stretch comes with a dose of déjà vu. But the journey and the payoff–the inevitable truth of ownership and freedom–is worth it.
If you like your history relevant, your dialogue sharp and your theater up close and personal, don’t miss “The Europeans.”