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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Intriguing Production of Gary Graves's Lola Montez

Also see Richard's reviews of Jesus Hopped the A Train, Trying and To the Lighthouse

Central Works Theatre Company, who writes, develops and produces plays, presents the world premiere of Gary Graves' Lola Montez.  This remarkable two hour and fifteen minute production was written in collaboration with Rica Anderson, John Patrick Moore, Louis Parnell, Gregory Scharpen and Jan Zvaifler. The historical drama is currently being presented at The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley through March 25th.

Lola Montez centers on the strange romance between the famous Spanish dancer Lola Montez and Ludwig I, the King of Bavaria, in 1860.  It is surprising that very few playwrights have written about the sweltering affair between "the most scandalous woman in the world," as she was commonly called during that period, and the King of Bavaria.  Famed film director Max Ophüls attempted an elaborate film version of the romance starring Martine Carol as Lola and Anton Walbrook as King Ludwig in 1955, which turned out to be a commercial flop (however, today it is being shown as a great classic cinematography art film). There was even a 1948 Universal western film, Black Bart, wherein the late Yvonne De Carlo played Lola Montez.

Gary Graves has taken some artistic liberties with Lola's life to make it more appealing to the audience. The drama opens in Ludwig's castle in 1846 where the sixty-year-old King (Louis Parnell) is ruling a very conservative government with a high moral standing.  The king is in a sexless marriage with the haughty Theresa, Queen of Bavaria (Klahr Thorsen). Ludwig is an incurable romantic, in love with all things beautiful in architecture and romantic writings, and he believes he is something of a Spanish aficionado since he has read Cervantes.  He is an autocratic ruler who believes there is no need for his parliament to vote since the people love him ("all they want is a nice meal and a good beer and they are happy").

Ludwig's Minister of the Interior, Karl Reichart (Sean Williford), tells him that a famous Spanish dancer Lola Montez (Jan Zvaifler) will be dancing at the court's theatre. She is demanding one half of the proceeds of the concert. Ludwig tells the minister that he will interview this lady about the percentages;  there seems to be an immediate spark of passion when he lays eyes on her. Lola, who is full of life and vinegar, has him hooked.

Lola gets every thing material, such as a large house, money and jewels that almost bankrupt the nation.  The Queen and the Minister are very unhappy and try to talk Ludwig out of his obsession with Lola.  The minister gives the king a document on the scandalous doings of the lady prior to coming to Munich. He even finds that Lola is not all that Spanish since she was born Eliza Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland, of a Spanish mother and a British soldier in 1818 (all of this is true and Lola Montez spent a year in San Francisco in 1853 where she married a rancher in the Sierra town of Grass Valley; she is buried in their cemetery under the name of Eliza Gilbert).

The morally uplifting conservative people finally have enough of the shenanigans of their king, especially since he makes Lola the Countess of Landsfeld.  The citizens revolt and poor Ludwig is forced to abdicate in favor of his son (Ludwig II, sometimes called "Mad Ludwig"). Our hero king flees to Lola who is now in Switzerland entertaining many men.  Finally, he sees Lola for what she is.  One can say "loves conquers all," but one could say here, "obsession conquers all," and it leaves the poor guy desolate. (The real facts are that the king retired to another country and with a generous pension lived very comfortably for the rest of his life.)

Louis Parnell (has accumulated 9 SFBATCC nominations over the years, with two wins plus several Dean Goodman awards) is excellent in the role of King Ludwig. He goes amazingly from an egocentric monarch to a poor, disheartened man.  His last scenes, when he finally realizes what a dope he is, are a brilliant tour de force of dramatic solo acting. Jan Zvaifler (founding member of Central Works including roles at Cal Shakes, Marin Theatre Company and Berkeley Rep) gives a glossy performance with a great Seville accent as Lola Montez. She is captivating in looks, movements and acting.

Klahr Thorsen (Urinetown at San Jose Stage and The Tempest at Cal Shakes) gives a good performance as Therese, Queen of Bavaria. She is properly "royal" in manner and speech. Sean Williford (core member of the Kinetic Theory Experimental Theatre Company) is top notch in the smallish role of the Minister of the Interior.

Lola Montez has no sets in the small bandbox theatre and only a minimum of props. Tammy Berlin's costumes are authentic period dress. Gary Graves, the playwright, also directs the fast-paced historical drama.

Lola Montez plays at The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley, California through March 25th. For tickets call 510-558-1381 or go to www.centralworks.org. Their next production will be a new play written by Anne Galjour called A Bird In The Hand, opening on June 23rd and running through July 29th.  Their final play of the year will be the revival of their hit comedy about three sisters and the old man in the other room called Every Inch a King, written and directed by Gary Graves. It opens on October 13th and runs through November 18th.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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