Jonathan Leaf’s The Germans in Paris is about Harry, Richard, and Karl—or, as they are now known, Heine, Wagner, and Marx. Leaf knocks these icons off their ideological pedestals, but in doing so strips away what’s most interesting about them. His hero is Heine—a sensualist poet, adulterous lover, and disillusioned political skeptic —who, unlike his more megalomaniacal fellow young exiles, paves a doomed road of moderation and decency. “How can you make a better man without first being one?” he lectures a cowardly Marx. Making the political personal is fair game in drama, but Leaf unfortunately settles for ad hominem attacks instead of a more direct engagement with the great ideas that drove this era.
While Leaf provides some literary stimulation for those who want to sit back and listen, James Milton’s stiff production does not add the necessary lifeblood to lift this play above historical curiosity. Of the cast, only Brian Wallace shines in his portrait of Wagner as a bumbling loser, awkward yet possessed with resentment and dreams of grandeur. Thankfully, his creepy anti-Semitic throwaways provide the evening some badly needed dramatic tension.