WEST LOS ANGELES — Director Martin Magner has unearthed an 1806 comedy by Heinrich von Kleist, "The Broken Jug." It's an interesting curiosity piece, but the juice drains out of it before the curtain comes down.
The play, at the Burbage Theatre, focuses on a Dutch village judge (Robert Ackerman) who moonlights as a dirty old man. Ackerman is quite a sight. With giant facial welts, caused by an accident during his nocturnal adventures, he stumbles into his chambers looking more like an inmate than a judge.
His clerk (Jeffrey Winner) gleefully informs him that an officious superior (Philip Persons) will monitor his performance in court today. First case: A dispute over a jug alleged to have been broken during an illicit assignation.
It doesn't take long before we realize that the judge himself is the culprit, and the rest of the play follows his squirming attempt to conceal that fact.
Ackerman's performance is marvelously seedy, and Courteney McWhinney's outraged plaintiff is vigorously bilious. Carl R. Mueller's English translation gives the story, which is set in 1700, some contemporary punch, without ever making explicit any references to, say, Clarence Thomas.
But the joke runs dry before the play ends.