Timothy McCown Reynolds in Rudolf ll. Photo by Arthur Cornelius.
BOTTOM LINE: A great production that is sexy and serious but at the same time, funny and thought provoking. A really wonderful show.
Rudolf II, presented by Untitled Theater Company #61, is a historical drama that ends up being more about the relationships of a man who just happens to be the King of Bohemia in 1583. Although the characters are all historical figures and the play revolves around the tensions between Catholics and Protestants, essentially we get to know Rudolf and what it was like for him to be in the center of all this drama. Lucky for me, the program offered copious notes about the characters and the background of the royal court. If you see the show, read them. It helps. The show is great. The acting is phenomenal and it's one of those off-off-Broadway shows that really should be off-Broadway so it gets the audience it deserves.
Rudolf is a troubled man who fights depression, suicide attempts and paranoia. He craves knowledge to a point where it becomes a fatal flaw. "I have something more than soldiers. I have knowledge," he says as his empire begins to fall down around him. He also craves the sexual attention of both men and women and because of his inability to focus on the world outside his chambers, his empire eventually crumbles. Timothy McCowan Reynolds plays Rudolf and is on stage every second of the show. He is nothing short of incredible. Reynolds' portrayal is sad, funny, charming, frightening, sexy and pathetic all at once and he never slows down.
As good as he is, others in the cast step right up to his level. His mistress Katerina is played by Yvonne Roen and she too is quite good. At first we see her as merely a sex object for Rudolf but as the play evolves it is clear that she very much loves this man who is the father of her children. Roen can switch from playful to serious on a dime and her final scene with Rudolf is heartbreaking when she sees that the love of her life is losing his battle with sanity. Other standouts in the cast are Joe Gately who plays the famous astronomer Tycho. Although his scenes are brief, his moment with Rudolf as he begs to "let me not seem to have lived in vain" is the dramatic highlight of the show. His desire for success is so real that it hurt me to see Tycho realize that he may not achieve all he dreamed of. Shelley Ray gives comic relief playing Elizabeth, the poet who may or may not have the ability to contact the dead. She is like that goody-two-shoes we all know and hate and she does a great job when the spirit speaks through her. Jack Schaub plays Philip, Rudolf's servant and love interest, with a naive eagerness in Act I and a grounded maturity in Act II. Eric E. Oleson is wonderful as Rumpf, who only has loyalty to Rudolf despite the Emperor's paranoia and distrust.
Director Henry Akona makes wonderful use of the newly refurbished Bohemian National Hall. Although there is a stage, it is not used. Instead, the action takes place in the section of the theater where the audience usually sits. The audience is positioned on either side of a long red carpet that leads to a bed and everything happens here. It really lets the audience feel they too are in the bed chambers of the Emperor. The live musicians and singers in the balcony providing music throughout the show and during the scene changes, add even more to this environmental production. Akona finds the right balance between the serious nature of the show and the comedy that happens even in the most serious of moments. Carla Grant's costumes are rich and Ian W. Hill's gorgeous lighting is warm. Writer Edward Einhorn should be commended on this world premiere. The play is great. It's got everything and it should have more of a life that just an Equity showcase.
I didn't just like this show, I loved it. It proves that an off-off-Broadway production can be just as inspiring as a show that has a huge budget and weeks and weeks of out of town try-outs. This show could be put into any off-Broadway house and have a very successful run. Get a ticket now, I doubt you'll regret it.
(Rudolf II plays at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, through March 28th. Performances are Saturday, March 13, Wednesday, March 17, Thursday, March 18, Saturday, March 19, Tuesday, March 23, Thursday, March 25 and Sunday March 28. All show times are at 7pm except for Sunday, March 28 which is at 5pm. Tickets are $18 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or at untitledtheater.com.)