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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Woeful Clara at Eclectic Theater

Also see David's reviews of Clara and Les Misérables


Marcus Wolland and Allie Pratt
The lives of famous artists don't always make for riveting storytelling. Hollywood had a go with the lives of Clara and Robert Schumann in a now forgotten film entitled Song of Love which ranks low on the list of Katharine Hepburn's great roles, as the film itself was tepidly received in 1947 despite her efforts and those of Paul Henreid as Robert Schumann and Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms (a 1983 German film Spring Symphony with Nastassja Kinski was a bit better received). Clara, the new play by Seattle playwright Leonard David Goodisman, is a slow-moving, dramatically inert slog through famous lives, borne of a hard to determine fascination with them, beyond the worth and power of their timeless compositions which, ironically, receive almost no representation in the production. This despite Paul Klein's earnest direction, and some performances which manage to spark interest, if not ignite the play's soggy center.

We meet Clara as a young, unmarried music student of her stern father Friedrich Wieck, who also teaches the rising Robert Schumann. Herr Wieck is vehemently against the marriage of the pair and, though they win the right to marry without her father's blessing, the victory comes on the eve Clara's 21st birthday when the pair would have been able to wed in any case. Several years, and on the way to a total of seven children later, the pair have had some measure of acclaim, and developed a strong friendship with Johannes Brahms, who keeps his infatuation with Clara at arm's length. Another contemporary, Richard Wagner, rears his head as a cultural antagonist of the Schumann's, though this seems a fanciful dramatic device of the playwright to inject more conflict into Clara's tale. Despite the sad facts of Robert's ultimate decline and death in a sanitarium which Clara never visited him in, and the might have been romance which never blossomed afterwards with Brahms, dramatist Goodisman's writing style tends towards history book dryness and the pedantic, and worse, never manages to work up to any considerable climax at the end of either of its two tedious acts.

The performances lavished upon this muddle are the only vital asset of this production. Allie Pratt makes Clara a vital, impassioned young woman, unafraid to take on a bully, whether that be her domineering Papa or the ranting Wagner. Pratt has a young Julie Harris quality about her, at once a child and an old soul. The actress, unlike the play, is well worth watching. Bryan Bender elicits sympathy for the tormented Robert, and achieves a believable bond as a couple with Pratt. Marcus Wolland is a fiery delight as Clara's martinet of a father, who ultimately concedes his objections to the Schumanns' pairing. Jeremy R. Behrens captures Brahms' gentility and compassion, but never quite captures the character's frustrated longing for Clara, while Eric Newman's Wagner is so broadly drawn and overly-animated as to verge on caricature.

Peter Shaffer's Amadeus may be that rare example of hitting upon a dramatic conceit which takes true life biography and spins it into a fanciful yet riveting drama. Clara is a fairly common illustration that it may be best to admire famous people privately, if you can't communicate a reason why the rest of us should share your interest in them.

Clara runs through November 24, 2013, at Eclectic Theater, 1014 10th Avenue on Seattle's Capitol Hill. For ticket and other information visit www.eclectictheatercompany.org.


Photo courtesy Eclectic Theatre



- David Edward Hughes



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