Performance Lab 115‘s adaptation of the first two parts of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, simply titled The Ring Cycle: [Parts 1+2], is a clever, well thought-out, if not entirely successful attempt to mythologize Wagner’s epic within the framework of 1980’s professional wrestling.
Introduced as an epic struggle between good and evil, Part 1 (Das Rheingold) is almost entirely staged as a WWF-style wrestling match complete with announcer and domestic side drama.
Anyone who has watched “WWF: Wrestlemania” would be immediately familiar with the archetypes and cliches presented: Rockstar wrestler accompanied by bellicose big-haired female companion versus spandexed tagteam of face-painted misfits. Except that here, it’s Wotan and Fricka versus Fasolt and Fafner. Whoever has the ring has the ability to “lay the smackdown” on any who would oppose him.
The unfortunate side effect of these 1980s wrestling cliches is an unnecessary amount of levity lent to one too many situations. Are we really supposed to laugh when Alberich laments the loss of the ring to Wotan? While, as described in the program, there may be many parallels between pro wrestling and Wagner’s Ring, there are also many incongruences which often resulted in the adaptation feeling artificial and forced. Needless to say, the sanctity of contracts carved into a wooden staff felt distinctly out of place in the wrestling ring, where foul play is the norm.
Things fare much better, however, in Part 2 (Die Walküre), when the drama manages to become compelling in its own right, rather than just a clever comic retelling of Wagner’s original. We are no longer in a wrestling ring, but a shoddy house in the land of the Hunding clan, with a view of Valhalla (Schenk’s, incidentally). Sieglinde is touchingly and believably portrayed as a battered, scared housewife of Anytown, USA, while Siegmund is curiously played as fragile, delirious, and beaten almost to the point of death.
Here, comedy serves to circumvent the obvious issues a modern adaptation and audience would have with this brother-sister couple. As they embrace and kiss, Siegmund asks, “Sister?”, to which Sieglinde replies, “That’s not gonna be a problem is it?”, at which point the audience gets a good laugh, and they make love in at least five different positions.
It was illuminating to see the events of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre condensed into a two-hour play. This adaptation attempted to streamline the drama so that Wotan’s dilemma and internal conflicts were highlighted and clarified. To achieve this, some liberties are taken to simplify the plot, such as there being no Tarnhelm or entry of gods into Valhalla, and having the Rhinemaiden scene occur as a flashback, rather than at the beginning.
Key moments, however, are given the same emphasis and gravity which Wagner gives them in the score, such as Alberich’s curse, the “Erda” scene, Sieglinde-Siegmund locking eyes, and Wotan’s “das Ende”. Additionally, the mounting moral complexities which Wotan faces after stealing the Ring are explicitly and effectively elucidated, fully acknowledging the many layers of conflicting morality which come to a head in Die Walküre, and are brilliantly played out in the Wotan-Fricka scene of the second act.
Standout performances include Christopher Hirsh‘s greedy and ruthless Fafner, Rebecca Lingafelter‘s frightened and passionate Sieglinde, and Jeremy Beck‘s occasionally overplayed but charismatic Siegmund.
Ultimately, this adaptation is basically just a summary of the first half of the Ring. It does not strive to comment on the work itself or offer an alternative perspective on the morality of the characters.As an introduction to the conflicts and quandaries of the Ring, however, it works very well.
If you enjoy 80’s rock (the Valkyries romped to Joan Jett‘s “I love rock ‘n roll”), pro-wrestling, and Wagner’s Norse mythology, this is a show for you. But for this reviewer, who fell in love first with the music of the Ring, there is nothing better than the original.