- Waging a (partly) civil war: Doug Pona (left) and Nate Jedrzejewski star in Unseam'd Shakespeare's The Constant Prince. Photo by Mark Whitehead
Honor? Loyalty? Dignity? What are they doing as primary themes in a play about war, political maneuvering and religion? Hint: Neither the play nor the war is of recent vintage, though the Unseam'd Shakespeare Company's restoration of The Constant Prince speaks to today's audiences -- and might even inspire them.
Director Rick Davis also translated the play, written by Spanish legend Pedro Calderón de la Barca in 1629 about wars nearly 200 years earlier. The 17th century may have been benighted with the acceptance of the divine right of kings and biblical justifications of slavery. But, by golly, Christians and Muslims could at least respect each other's religious beliefs and recognize their respective humanity while they were trying to disembowel each other.
But do not mistake this for Romantic war-is-noble pishtosh. By necessity, the great battles are offstage and no blood gushes onto the neat confines of the Open Stage Theatre's stage. Yet neither Calderón nor Davis denies the suffering and ultimate stupidity of war.
The story, though tightly told, is complex. The constancy of the title's prince primarily involves his steadfastness as a Christian even to the point of martyrdom during Muslim captivity. But nobility's obligations get all tangled and conflicted in the relationships among enemies, friends, families and lovers. Every character faces seemingly impossible decisions about physical suffering, spiritual pain and questions of honor.
The most interesting character, a Muslim soldier ably played by Nate Jedrzewski, confronts the greatest complexities: Hamlet and Othello combined with an unlikely friendship with the captive prince, and even unlikelier romance with the Moorish king's daughter. Joe Domenic captures the saintly fervor of the title character, a nice compare-and-contrast with the religious arrogance and martial zeal of Marc Epstein as the king of Portugal. A regal Doug Pona easily rules the stage as the king of Fez. But let us hope that during the run, Deanna Brokkens' projection improves; her crucial lines as the king's daughter are chewed up and never spit out. Completing the capable and multi-tasking cast are Brian Czarniecki, Jennifer Koegler, Parag Gohel and Evan Endres.
Though a story of its day, The Constant Prince is no relic. There is honor but no glory; no real villains, and ultimately -- despite victories on the battlefield -- no real winners or losers. It's a story still worth hearing, in the flowing language of a classic storyteller.
The Constant Prince continues through June 30. The Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. at Open Stage Theatre, 2835 Smallman St., Strip District.412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org