Theater archives

The Ultimately Humorless Rudolf II


How could a play featuring a golden, ruby-studded nasal prosthesis ultimately be so humorless? Rudolf II, which chronicles the long slow demise of a bipolar, polyamorous Holy Roman Emperor, may have its ironies. But many of its wildest eccentricities—and Rudolf’s court was both decadent and utopian enough to supply many more beside a noseless braggart-astronomer—seem included only to satisfy a slavish devotion to the historical record. Neither playwright, director, nor cast finds joyful spectacle or biting satire in them. The resulting play functions as little more than a dry, earnest myth of cultural origin—the sort that begins with a ghost of the capital city’s founder and ends with its title character walking into a bright white light.

The set (which goes uncredited) promises so much more. The grand ballroom of the Bohemian National Hall is bisected by a long red carpet, evoking both a celebrity staging area and a throne room. But where the throne should be, raised on a plinth, sits Rudolf’s well-trafficked bed instead. No character matches the set’s topsy-turviness. Yet even without much to react against, Eric Oleson, as Rudolf’s disapproving yet loyal Lord Chamberlain, plays the flabbergasted straight man to perfection.