Force of Nature
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Charles Jarrett

The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe enjoyed studying natural science and philosophy as much as he did literature. In his novel Elective Affinities, he compares human passions to chemical substances: “In the chemistry of his (Goethe’s) time the term ‘elective affinities’ was used to denote the mutual attraction of two substances that retain their overpowering force, even though both are already chemically linked to others,” said Frederick Ungar in the introduction to Goethe’s novel about a happily married couple who invites two people to live with them. “In such a case, the bound substances will separate and establish a new bond with their kindred by choice. Love, too is such a power; like a blind force of nature, it destroys every higher order, reducing its victims to the level of unfree elements of nature.”

This subtle blend of the chemistry of science with the passionate chemistry of human attraction is rendered beautifully in Elective Affinities and in contemporary playwright Steven Dietz’s drama Force of Nature that is freely adapted from Goethe’s novel.

Now playing at Playhouse West in Walnut Creek, Force of Nature becomes a living poem in the insightful hands of director Lois Grandi and a fantastic cast. Edward (Hugh O’Gorman) and Charlotte (Amy Kay Raymond) are the happily married couple. When Edward first tells his wife that he would like to invite his friend the Captain (Robert Hamm) to stay with them, she’s not so sure it’s a good idea, but she acquiesces when she realizes that it offers her the opportunity to invite a deceased friend’s daughter Ottilie (Kelli Tager) to live with them.

At the time they have no idea what effect these two people will have on their relationship. “…Very likely their being of opposite natures is the secret of their inter-relational effect – each reaches out eagerly for its companion, they lay hold of each other, modify each other’s character, and form in connection an entirely new substance,” says the Captain to Charlotte in Goethe’s novel.

“…Unhappily, we know cases enough where a connection apparently indissoluble between two persons, has, by the accidental introduction of a third, been utterly destroyed, and one or the other of the once happily united pair been driven out into the wilderness,” said Charlotte.

“Then you see how much more gallant the chemists are,” said Edward. “They at once add a fourth, that neither may go away empty.”

And we’re off and running in a drama that subtly weaves the attractions and separations of chemicals with human passions. But one of the most interesting elements, that is studied in depth, is whether this force of nature is a blind force or one that can manifest a semblance of control through human will and denial.

Each character in this powerful play must find their approach to surviving this hurricane force.

For tickets or more information call (925) 943-7469 or visit www.playhousewest.org.

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