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Women drive the plot of The Rep's 'Prussia: 1866'

| Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, 9:01 p.m.
Gab Cody, Drew Palajsa and Phil Winters star in The REP's production of 'Prussia: 1866.'
Jeff Swensen | Point Park University
Gab Cody, Drew Palajsa and Phil Winters star in The REP's production of 'Prussia: 1866.'
Drew Palajsa (left) and Phil Winters star in The REP's production of 'Prussia: 1866.'
Jeff Swensen for Point Park University
Drew Palajsa (left) and Phil Winters star in The REP's production of 'Prussia: 1866.'

Farces written by female playwrights are few and far between.

Of the 329 farces listed in the Samuel French catalog, only 36 are written by women, and 18 of those were done in collaboration with men.

“I came up through improv, stand-up and sketch comedy, which is very male-dominated,” says Gab Cody, a local playwright, actor, improviser and stand-up comic. “Although I think it is changing, comedy is still male-dominated.”

Cody is adding her voice to the genre with her farce, “Prussia: 1866,” which will have its world premiere in a production with The Rep, Point Park University's professional theater company.

“The female in comedy is often given short shrift. She is used as an object. The females (in ‘Prussia: 1866') drive the plot. They are complicated characters who are actualizing it,” Cody says. “What separates this from (other) farces is here, women are actual people and the men are, as well.”

“We have found that the men in this play are willingly manipulated,” says Kim Martin, who is directing the production.

“Prussia: 1866” is set on the estate of 50-year-old popular Prussian novelist Heinrich Von Klamp on a late summer day just after the end of the Austro-Prussian War.

Its hijinks and humor revolve around the attraction between Von Klamp's very young wife, Mariska, and 22-year-old, yet-to-be-famous-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whom Von Klamp is mentoring.

As in any farce, the household is awhirl with additional attractions, attachments and secrets involving everyone, including Karoline, the 19-year-old maid, Von Klamp's feminist secretary and a very handsome, 40-year-old American delegate and a surprise visitor.

Don't bother prepping for the production by wading through Nietzsche's “Beyond Good and Evil” or brushing up on 19th-century European politics.

Nietzsche was 22 in 1886, and he was living in Prussia that year. But what happens here is completely fictional and can be experienced on its own, Martin says.

“This (character) is Nietzsche, and it is peppered with his philosophy. Will the audience even know it's Nietzsche? Does it matter to the audiences?”

Absolutely not, she answers.

“I think it will become richer if you have that understanding,” Martin says. “But I don't think the comedy is dependent on it.”

So, why did Cody make Nietzsche her central character?

“Nietzsche is one of the most passionate philosophers we have ever known,” Cody says. “He is the perfect character because he was driven by huge ideas and passions, the character you want for a farce. He also has failings. ... The opposition of strong character and weak person was interesting.”

Cody describes “Prussia: 1866” as a high-energy, exuberant comedy that is “absurd, shocking and delightful ... and just enough nudity.”

“The biggest thing the audience will take away is a good time,” Martin says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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