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Rudolf II

Edward Einhorn's play about the 17th-century monarch focuses too much on the man's flaws. logo
Yvonne Roen and Timothy McCown Reynolds
in Rudolf II
(© Arthur Cornelius)
The pitfall of many plays based on the lives of historical figures is that they leave out the powerful parts and focus primarily on the flaws. Unfortunately, Edward Einhorn's Rudolf II, now at the Bohemian National Hall, is such a work.

Yes, this colorful member of the Habsburg dynasty at the turn of the 17th Century was a victim of violent mood swings who, apparently, shut himself up in his bedroom for days at a time. Yes, this unmarried monarch had multiple lovers, possibly of both genders. And, yes, there's strong evidence that he was an exotic spendthrift. But he was also the Holy Roman Emperor for more than three decades, someone who made epic attempts to unify his empire and was not afraid to go up against mighty foes, from the Pope to various challengers to his throne.

Politically ineffectual as he may have been, Rudolf is portrayed as such a cowardly, befuddled, and sex-crazed mess, it's unbelievable that he would have lasted three months in power, let alone the dozen or so years that are still left in his reign at the top of Act One.

This isn't entirely the fault of Timothy McCown Reynolds, the actor who plays him. Reynolds has a charismatic quality that energizes many of his scenes. But director Henry Akona is rarely successful at elevating the actor above the weightiness of a Gene Wilder-type. However, Einhorn, who opens and closes the evening with quasi-lofty narration from the ghost of Libuše (Adriana Disman), the mythical founder of Prague, seems to have more serious intentions.

Just what those are remain unclear even at play's end. A fascinating parade of on- and off-stage characters march through and around this work -- astronomers Johannes Kepler and his mentor Tycho Brahe; the legendary Spanish prince Don Carlos; the poet Elizabeth Jane Weston; and the painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose famous proto-surrealist portrait of Rudolf (with fruits and vegetables for facial features) is prominently placed on the show's effectively spare set. Sadly, these figures amount to little more than a laundry list of people and events circa 1600, and only Eric E. Oleson as Rudolf's royal chamberlain, does passable work among the supporting players.

The play does tip its hat to Rudolf's historic achievement as a patron of the arts and sciences, not to mention his unprecedented support for religious freedoms. But a more consistent theatrical look at this groundbreaking figure still awaits us.

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