The Sword Politik
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 18, 2009
Jonathan Marinus Crefeld's new play The Sword Politik is a sort of postmodern swashbuckler adventure that tells the story of Ulrich Nachtenzeit and his rise and fall and rise in German feudal politics in the Dark Ages. When we first meet him, Ulrich is the chief general of Baron Otto von Brochol; as protege to the Baron, and, apparently, a budding military genius, Ulrich has built up a great army to fight the "Savages" (Huns) who are the enemies of these Christian Germans. But the death of the Baron of neighboring Schleiss creates a vacuum that both Brochol and another nobleman, Maximilian von Murligstein, intend to exploit. And because Ulrich and Schleiss's daughter Nina (now the Baroness) are childhood sweethearts, Ulrich's loyalty to Brochol is now in question (and vice versa).
The plot spins from here, with a variety of complicated twists and turns that keep us guessing who is in league with whom. There's a definite traditional throughline here—will Ulrich and Nina get together?—but as the play's title promises Crefeld's main interests are the sword and the politics, and so the play mainly consists of scenes depicting shifting allegiances and revelations of treachery and betrayal as all of the main characters—Brochol, Murligstein, Nina, Ulrich, and Nina's bastard brother Dirk—maneuver for power and align themselves variously with and against one another, their feudal lord (a Duke), and their King.
What makes The Sword Politik interesting is that though its story is set in a world of knights in shining armor fighting dragons, there are no clear good guys or bad guys in it. Crefeld suffuses all of his characters with the contradictions of very contemporary people: no one is pure of heart here, and even the most villainous-seeming personage (Baron von Brochol) can clearly be seen to have done some good in his life. This is why I called the play "sort of postmodern" in my first paragraph.
Nevertheless, Ulrich, his flaws aside, is a grand (anti)heroic creation and the playwright, taking the role in this production himself, makes him the center of the play in a performance that is exciting and good-humored and just enough larger than life. He is the standout member of the nine-person cast. Jon Ciccarelli directs; the pacing felt a bit slack at the performance attended, but that may improve as the run progresses. The show is clearly hindered by the venue that MITF has placed it in: it's pretty incredible to me that the powers-that-be would put a show with nine actors and many well-advertised swordfighting sequences in the tiny Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (and fight director Michael Hagins works miracles with the swordfights, keeping them out of the aisles and audience members' faces, but probably at great sacrifice of excitement!).