Why do we escape to the theatre? To see shows like Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin.
Presented at Motel Theatre, Rakoz’s one-man show stages the story of King Ludwig II who reigned over Bavaria in the late 1800s, but was himself ruled by an obsession with the fantastical. Ludwig was particularly enthralled by the story of the Swan Knight, the subject of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The king would, in fact, go on to be Wagner’s patron, giving way to a relationship only best described as complicated.
And that is one reason why Rakoz does not allow the audience to meet Ludwig. For how is it one could portray a man who sought to remain an enigma? Instead, Rakoz reveals Ludwig to the audience via the perspective of others.
Playing these multiple characters, some of whom were real people in Ludwig’s life, the actor gives the audience an idea of what was being said about this eccentric king. Questions surrounding his sanity were among the whispers travelling around the castle. But these were not quiet rumbles. Ludwig’s fixation on building elaborate, ‘fairytale’ castles deeply disturbed his cabinet ministers as the castles were a financial burden on Bavaria. One way or another, the ministers figured, Ludwig’s ludicrous spending had to end.
What is important to note is that this story is not about Ludwig as a king. Rakoz goes beyond the royal veil to humanize Ludwig as a complicated man who had the misfortune of being king. Had he been an everyman, the actor suggests, Ludwig would have fared much better than he did. Ludwig, whose sexuality attracted speculation from many, would have been able to follow his heart’s desires without the public damning him for it.
Rakoz’s show fascinates with its inventive staging that is nothing short of magical. Rakoz’s shadow play is particularly dazzling. Watching it, one cannot help but feel totally absorbed in the drama of the Swan Knight. Then, the actor escapes into 17 different characters who each feel alive in their own right. Certainly, the brain does take awhile to catch up sometimes, but never to a point where one feels lost in the story.
Really, there is so much here that has to be seen. Nearly every moment Rakoz paints on stage is simply beautiful. And such beauty makes our hearts tremble when the play nears its end. The audience wastes no time to rise to their feet and applaud Rakoz.
Set designer Leon Schwesinger’s set is both very earthy and elegant in its presentation. The paper swans hung from the ceiling are a nice touch.
Third Street Theatre did well to bring Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin to Calgary audiences. Rakoz’s ability to capture both our hearts and imaginations makes for an incredibly moving evening at the theatre. Those fortunate enough to catch Ludwig & Lohengrin during its limited run are in for something truly special. This is storytelling at its finest.
Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin runs at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons), Feb 24 – 28, 2015.
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