A Rare, Welcome Glimpse of ‘Don Carlos’ ’ Betrayal, Vengeance


Here it comes, you find yourself thinking: Another title from the World Drama’s Greatest Hits list, a golden oldie you’d really rather not see again until, say, next year. Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt--the great plays are riddles, with more than one answer hidden in their shadows--but it’s no antidote, either.

In America, Friedrich Schiller is a different, rarer story.

Evidence Room’s staging of “Don Carlos,” Schiller’s 1787 historical tragedy, blows the dust off a seldom-revived classic. Most American audiences have never seen it (Verdi’s opera gets more mileage). It’s a fascinating, unstable work, and after one too many OK productions of “Hamlet” or somesuch, it’s an especially welcome theatrical tonic.

The “Hamlet” parallels are many; Schiller knew his Shakespeare. The time is 1568. Prince Carlos (Christian Leffler) is recently back from university. In John Rafter Lee’s adaptation, he’s described as a “hothead,” and for sound reason: He’s in love with his former fiancee, Elizabeth of Valois (Alyce LaTourelle), who has married Carlos’ father, the rigid Spanish king, Phillip II (Tom Fitzpatrick).


Beyond this familial sturm und drang, “Don Carlos” encompasses larger matters of state. Spain’s chokehold on the Netherlands has begun to foment rebellion. Carlos wants to wrest control away from his father. Carlos’ friend Roderigo (Nick Offerman), the Marquis of Posa, likewise dreams of freedom for his people and becomes an unlikely power broker in the king’s duplicitous court.

Enough plot. Part of the payoff here is Schiller’s twisty, highly melodramatic narrative. Lee’s translation, about half an hour shorter than most English-language versions of “Don Carlos,” compresses the various acts of betrayal and vengeance very tightly. By design Lee gives the lines a modern spin, sometimes verging on parody.

“I’m floundering here!” says the prince’s would-be paramour, the Countess Eboli, played by wry Mandy Freund. At another point, the queen lets loose with, “I’m shocked, shocked to hear there are underhanded dealings in Madrid,” in a line paraphrased from “Casablanca.”

It’s an uneven translation and an uneven 16-person ensemble, but director Bart DeLorenzo plays both like a fiddle. He favors speed and urgency without flattening out this zigzagging drama’s rhythms.

Without much of a budget, scenic designers Jason Adams and Alicia Hoge fashion an effectively hermetic enclosed environment, filled out visually by Ann Closs-Farley’s rich costume palette, which edges into the 20th century as the play progresses.

Rand Ryan’s lighting carves out sharp pools of conspiratorial conversation, opening with a literal Golden Age of sunshine, the hues darkening in subsequent scenes. John Zalewski’s sound serves up a feast of discordant clanging, without falling into cliche.


A stronger, less unvaryingly insolent Carlos wouldn’t hurt, nor would a more authoritative queen. But Fitzpatrick’s Phillip II throws some wonderful mood-swinging fits; Tony Abatemarco’s blind but all-seeing Grand Inquisitor is indelibly creepy, straight out of Beckett’s “Endgame.” While Offerman’s Roderigo, like Leffler’s Carlos, may not relish the language, he lends a sharp edge of irony to his scenes.

The play itself is a stirring call to liberal-humanist arms. It seems especially valuable right now.

* “Don Carlos,” Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends July 15. $15-$20. (213) 381-7118. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Christian Leffler: Don Carlos

Tom Fitzpatrick: Phillip II

Alyce LaTourelle: Queen Elizabeth of Valois

Nick Offerman: Marquis of Posa

Lisa Black: Duchess of Olivarez

Liz Davies: Marchioness of Mondecar

Mandy Freund: Countess Eboli

Christopher Kelley: Duke of Alba

Jan Munroe: Father Domingo

Tony Abatemarco: The Grand Inquisitor

Written by Friedrich Schiller. Adapted by John Rafter Lee. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo. Scenic design by Jason Adams and Alicia Hoge. Costumes by Ann Closs-Farley. Lighting by Rand Ryan. Sound by John Zalewski. Stage manager Beth Beecham.