×

Force of Nature

"Force of Nature," the clever new play by the remarkably prolific Steven Dietz, is one of those savvy period adaptations that provides an erudite evening of old-fashioned theater while simultaneously offering an audience a decent helping of contemporary relevance. Concerned with the timeless morality (or lack thereof) of extra-marital affairs, this smart new take on Goethe's "Elective Affinities" should have a bright future on nonprofit seasons across the country.

With:
Ed/Edward ..... Andrew May Charlotte ..... Laura Gordon Cap/The Captain ..... James Pickering Ottilie ..... Kirsten Potter Curt/The Count ..... Peter Silbert Sharon/The Baroness ..... Rose Pickering Nick/Nicolas ..... Brian Vaughn Lucy/Lucianne ..... Deborah Staples Mittler ..... Lee E. Ernst Young Woman ..... Melissa Cannaday The Husband ..... Jeremy Woods

“Force of Nature,” the clever new play by the remarkably prolific Steven Dietz, is one of those savvy period adaptations that provides an erudite evening of old-fashioned theater while simultaneously offering an audience a decent helping of contemporary relevance. Concerned with the timeless morality (or lack thereof) of extra-marital affairs, this smart new take on Goethe’s “Elective Affinities” should have a bright future on nonprofit seasons across the country.

While it lacks the sexual sizzle of “The Blue Room,” cheerfully anachronistic period adaptations remain a relatively hot commodity in the Anglo-American theater. Carrying much the same appeal as, say, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” “Elective Affinities” could do very well in London and would probably also find an appreciative audience Off Broadway, albeit from an older demographic. As has been the case with several of Dietz’s previous works, the Milwaukee Rep has given this show a beautifully designed and well-acted initial production.

This is not merely a new dramatic version of the period text. Although the bulk of the action is set in 1809 and is based on Goethe’s original novella, Dietz has also penned a contemporary outer frame, beginning his drama with a contemplative modern-day fellow who happens to be reading Goethe while on a picnic with family and friends. As he reads, the period action takes over the evening, with the play returning briefly to the present just before the final curtain.

The core issue in the play is the sanctity of marriage vows, with Goethe’s story revolving around a complicated menage a quatre. At the center of the drama are Charlotte and Edward (well played by Laura Gordon and Andrew May), a seemingly happy pair of well-heeled aristocrats.

The couple’s bliss comes apart when a third and fourth party are introduced into the marital mix. Edward’s old friend, a military man named the Captain (James Pickering), falls in love with Charlotte and she with him. Meanwhile, Charlotte invites a hypnotic young orphan named Ottilie (Kirsten Potter) into their home. Edward and Ottilie also fall in love.

From that point onward, Dietz explores such thorny notions as whether or not people can control the forces of passion (hence the title), and whether the discovery of extra-marital joy inherently requires the dissolution of the official union.

As a way of further exploring these issues, Goethe and Dietz include a bevy of minor characters, including a schoolteacher who’s in love with Ottilie; a meddling moralist anxious to preserve the marriage at all costs; and a pair of passionate but unhappy aristocratic lovers forced to conceal their mutual affection because of societal demands that they remain in their loveless marriages.

Although this play is written in a heightened style (it can seem a little precious at times), the narrative contains all of Dietz’s trademark metatheatrical touches — clever asides to the audience, characters revealing emotions they do not actually speak, and an overall dramatic sense of fluidity.

The play would be better overall if Dietz had further developed the outer, contemporary frame. But the Goethe text has been deftly translated to drama here and Joseph Hanreddy’s premiere production features many enjoyable performances, along with a luscious design from Kent Dorsey.

A perennial favorite in the hinterlands, Dietz still lacks a major New York hit. If someone picks up “Force of Nature,” there’s a decent chance of changing that perplexing state of affairs.

Popular on Variety

Force of Nature

(DRAMA; MILWAUKEE REPERTORY THEATER; 740 SEATS; $ 32 TOP)

Production: MILWAUKEE, Wis. A Milwaukee Repertory Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Steven Dietz. Directed by Joseph Hanreddy. Sets and

Crew: Lighting, Kent Dorsey; costumes, Laura Crow; sound, Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen; production stage manager, Judy Berdan. Artistic director, Hanreddy. Opened April 9, 1999. Reviewed April 20. Running time: 2 HOURS.

With: Ed/Edward ..... Andrew May Charlotte ..... Laura Gordon Cap/The Captain ..... James Pickering Ottilie ..... Kirsten Potter Curt/The Count ..... Peter Silbert Sharon/The Baroness ..... Rose Pickering Nick/Nicolas ..... Brian Vaughn Lucy/Lucianne ..... Deborah Staples Mittler ..... Lee E. Ernst Young Woman ..... Melissa Cannaday The Husband ..... Jeremy WoodsWith: Damon Dunay, Sharon Golinski, Kate McDermott, Samantha D. Montgomery, Thomas Rosenthal, Aaron Simms.

More Film

  • The Sky Is Pink

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Sky is Pink'

    Shonali Bose’s much-laureled 2014 “Margarita with a Straw” was a film whose presentation of a cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine sidestepped all the usual hand-wringing inspirational clichés of disability portrayal, making her story all the more enlightening and affecting. It is particularly disappointing, then, that the director’s followup should approach another tale of genetic infirmity with all [...]

  • Jodie Turner-SmithVariety Studio Comic-Con, Day 1,

    'Queen and Slim' Star Jodie Turner-Smith Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' (EXCLUSIVE)

    After she plays the Bonnie to Daniel Kaluuya’s Clyde in Universal’s romantic thriller “Queen and Slim,” actress Jodie Turner-Smith will join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Turner-Smith will play Karen Greer, the daughter of CIA deputy director James Greer, who played a pivotal role in Clancy’s universe. The part [...]

  • Joe Anthony Russo

    Russo Brothers to Receive Publicists Motion Picture Showman Award

    Hollywood union publicists have selected the Russo Brothers to receive the Motion Picture Showman of the Year Award. Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed “Avengers: Endgame,” will receive the award at the 57th Annual Publicists Awards ceremony on Feb. 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The publicists are part of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, IATSE [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone on Rambo's Return: A

    Sylvester Stallone on Rambo's Return: 'The Warrior Can Never Find Peace'

    Sylvester Stallone may be 73, but he’s not one to sit back in his twilight years. As his legendary body slows, his output certainly hasn’t. This Friday, “Rambo: Last Blood” hits theaters around the world – 37 years after the debut of “Rambo: First Blood.” Why bring the muscled Vietnam veteran back for a final, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content