It’s not often that I revisit my highschool self to recall how self-righteously angry I was, and how I was determined to change the world, my way. Now, only shortly removed from adolescence, I tend to avoid the stark black-and-white worldview that I once held. Like all of us here at U of T, I’m trying to learn to see the world in delicate shades of grey.So what made the University College Drama Program production of Schiller’s The Robbers so enjoyable? For me, not only was its creative exploration of the stereotypical “loss of innocence” trope successful, but that it did so in a creative way, one which did not force me to wallow in the shadows of my former self, but rather observe with the perspective of someone older.Written in 1781 by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller while he was stuck in a military academy, The Robbers follows the story of a group of young German vigilantes who fight injustice with more injustice as a Robin Hoodesque band of brothers. The play was Schiller’s first published work, and represents the late “Storm and Stress” period in 18th-century German literature.
In this production, director Johanna Schall’s choice to cast men and women worked well, adding an element of sexual tension as the cast explored the gender dynamics of anger. It also satisfied the audience’s desire to recall their own adolescent sexuality, a crucial part of growing up.The story takes place entirely within the confines of a high school classroom, running for two hours with no intermission. For the first 10 minutes of the play, I was reminded just how confining it felt to be trapped in a high school classroom. Each actor fulfilled some archetypal high school role, but did so with such youthful enthusiasm and talent that no character really fell flat, although they were all more or less one-dimensional.This production was a triumph of acting. Each character fit in to the setting so that it did not matter that the plot was secondary, and occasionally difficult to follow. Franz (Ted Witzel) is the younger son of Count von Moor (Marcel Dragonieri, hilarious as always) who schemes against his older brother, Karl (Luke LaRocque). Karl forms the band of robbers to channel his anger into a struggle for justice as chaos and blood ensues.Witzel plays an excellent villain, reminiscent of many jealous misfits. LaRocque clearly worked hard for this role, and it shows, making young, self-righteous anger seem natural and justified. My favourite character was the scheming Spiegelberg (Jennifer Dowding), a character who is seriously fucked up.Perhaps the reason I enjoyed The Robbers so much, and the reason they did so well, is that this is a show that demands reflection on youth, perfectly suited for young actors, and especially resonant for young viewers. It has an unmistakable innocence, shrouded with enlightened ideas and ideology easily held by the young.