War Torn: ''Wallenstein''

Robert Pinsky boldly and cleverly freshens Wallenstein's solemn historical premise with an irreverently modern voice

Single-handedly setting the tone and carrying it (sometimes against the odds), Steve Pickering captures Wallenstein as a gratifyingly canny force to be reckoned with. Cleverly conceived, he brings a contemporary urgency and nuance to the role that keeps it intimate, unsettling and real. This is a man you might meet in the halls of the Pentagon, albeit minus the chest plate and sword.

Of course, how much of Wallenstein’s maneuvering is done for peace and how much for power remains a question Schiller may or may not answer fully. But with Pickering’s intensity and his credible evocation of a man battle-hardened, battle-sickened and of an age to see that there is one last battle he will never win, the inner questions in this man make for compelling viewing.

With the Coriolanus cast returning in roles of different emphasis, standouts this time include Robert Sicular as Octavio Palladini, Wallenstein’s erstwhile friend and ally, delivering his general with an understated conviction that makes convincing his sense of duty in the face of personal cost. As Questenberg, a diplomat sent by the Holy Roman emperor with a mission that makes clear that Wallenstein has fallen from favor, Philip Goodwin offers a superbly crafted combination of menace, irony and indifference. As Wallenstein’s sister, the countess, Diane D’Aquila returns with another officious woman, this time orchestrating a marriage, nicely suggesting the importance of such machinations in the influential and literal survival of families. In the roles of Lundquist and Devereux, Glen Pannell is charismatic and engaging while Michael Santo’s Count Czerny is pleasingly natural and nuanced.

WALLENSTEIN
starstarstarstar
To June 2
Shakespeare Theatre Co.
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. NW
$55 to $105
202-547-1122
www.shakespearetheatre.org

More complicated is Derrick Lee Weeden as Kolibas, one of Wallenstein’s loyal generals. Otherwise solid, Weeden allows his Kolibas to become rather larger-than-life in a drunken scene that feels incongruous, especially since Kolibas seems sober one minute and crazy-drunk the next. Freshly charismatic and dishy in 17th century locks, Nick Dillenburg looks very much the part of Octavio’s son, Max Palladini, and ably suggests the slight vulnerability required of a romantic character. It’s also essential for the later poignancy of this character’s fate – even if Schiller never makes clear why he invites it. As his paramour Thekla, Aaryn Kopp shows she can muster more than just a willowy figure, giving a smaller role some memorable dimension.

A pairing as complex and skillfully done as Coriolanus and Wallenstein doesn’t come around often. It’s a thesis’s worth of essential viewing.

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