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Havel’s Leaving

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Leaving (Vaclav Havel)
U.S. Premiere
The Wilma
May 26-June 20, 2010
It’s a big deal to get the U.S. premiere of Vaclav Havel’s first play in 20 years. It’s a big deal to get David Strathairn for the lead. “Leaving” by the former president of the Czech Republic is mild political satire rather than laugh- a- minute comedy. The writing is bittersweet, clever; the structure weak.
At The Wilma where the play runs through June 20, Strathairn plays the unseated Chancellor Vilem Rieger. Surrounded by a retinue of 15, the well-dreseed dreamer hangs on to his villa and his, cherry orchard, while his bossy blonde companion Irena manages his interviews, his wardrobe, his pantry, and the deaf butler.

One great device in Leaving is the Voice of the Author, which interrupts at theatrical uncertainties. It’s not Havel’s voice but the god like F. Murray Abraham’s. The gimmick surprise us the first and second time then doesn’t; better to fix the dull spots rather than muse on them. Leaving was begun in 1989 before Havel took office. Except the main character’s attractiveness to women and belief in democracy, there’s little in passive Vilem’s character to suggest our playwriting political hero.
Leaving is full of puns including those on his name; its allusions to Lear and Chekov will be apparent. Director Jiri Zizka well steers the ‘hububs’ that take the cast into dream sequences. If only he could snap things along. Heads were nodding the night I attended.

Kathryn Meisle makes a sassy Irena; Janis Dardaris the old mother. Peter De Laurier is a wonderful Hanus. There are two self absorbed daughters, one almost evil; a grad student on the make, a Mafioso style new prime minister. Grand doors and small permit the entrances and exits (and a delightful rain sequence) that keep the play in motion circling the indecisive Villem going nowhere. Strathairn is so fine an actor I wish this play gave him something better to do than dither. Leaving is not quite absurd enough or poignant enough though its points about loss and denial are real. Like Villem, it waffles.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

May 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

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