Brit provocateur Barker can write insightfully about sex and war. In his raunchy, brilliant 1985 comedy The Castle, for instance, knights returning from the Crusades discover to their horror that the women have done away with the church and the social caste system. Unfortunately, this nearly impenetrable 1994 work, receiving its U.S. premiere, isn’t cut from the same cloth.
Barker’s Minna refashions German playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1767 bourgeois comedy Minna von Barnhelm. Not familiar? We don’t imagine most modern American theatergoers are. Perhaps they should be, but neither Barker nor director Wiesner—the terrific actor, whose union status prevents her from performing at her longtime home, directs for the first time—do us any contextual favors. Minna (an astringent Dulex) and her servant Francisca (a tripartite character played by Rogers, Maurer and Modjeska) reunite with Minna’s betrothed (Cox) after the war—the Seven Years’ War in Lessing’s account, but as one of Barker’s characters says, “They’re all the same war.”
That’s precious little wisdom to be gleaned from a two-act fractured tale. Wiesner’s actors—including such talented Trap vets as Kahara, Wisniewski and Gray—seem to have a strong sense of purpose for their actions; they’re just not sharing with us. Two hanged bodies (Gary Damico and Amber Lageman, remaining on stage throughout) occasionally pipe up from their nooses, and a sinister-seeming Cupid figure (Dave Holcombe) stalks the stage. It’s possible that, unlike with Barker’s similar riffs on King Lear and Uncle Vanya, Lessing’s play is just too little-known to predicate a new take on it. Wiesner creates some bracing stage pictures in her stylish production (with special credit to Beata Pilch and Nevena Todorovic’s costumes). It’s just hard to find the substance behind it.