Saturday, April 6, 2013

Strindberg's Redemption


Easter, by August Strindberg
produced by the August Strindberg Repertory Theatre at the Genre Frankel Theater, NYC.
directed by Robert Greer
with Chudney Sykes, Nathan James, DeSean Stokes, Carol Carter, Ley Smith, Jolie Garrett

Strindberg wrote Easter in 1901 in Stockholm. True to his vision, it’s a short play (this production runs less than 90 minutes). It has huge lumps of Strindbergian despair with a welcome garnish of redemption. It concerns a family in huge financial debt due to the father’s swindling. He’s in prison, his daughter has just been release from a madhouse, and the creditor is at the door. I love Strindberg.

Our playwright has little concern with plot; there’s only a flimsy string of dramatic action. A lot of the dialogue is merely repetitive exposition. And our favorite Swede lays on the moralizing so thick that the story, such as it is, is smothered, and the play’s boring.

In the recent production by the August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (NYC, OOB), the actors are expressive and sharp. Their emotional flow is smooth, balanced; the transitions are faultless; their delivery of clunky lines is masterful. They’re called upon to say things like “I don’t understand you but I think I know the meaning of your thoughts.” Good heavens!

Nathan James is especially dexterous as Ellis, the son, husband and brother, the center of the play. He delivers awkward exposition with commitment and motivation, not to say without embarrassment.

But the acting lacks contrast. This is one reason the emotional flow is so smooth; it’s easy. Our mad daughter (the most lucid of the characters) has particular opportunity to show some bipolar disorder, but apparently is directed not to. This emotional reasonableness is uniform in this cast of good actors; played it safe.

The creditor shows up at the end of the play, a big raging bear (the script uses the metaphor). He literally roars at our Ellis. But then Ellis gives a sort of dismissive smirk, and we sort of laugh. Director Robert Greer hasn’t decided if we’re in expressionism or realism here. His handling of the score and the script mechanics is otherwise skillful

The costumes are nice, as is the set with it simple backdrop of sketched windows. It’s really cool that the production closed on Easter Sunday.

By its mission the August Strindberg Repertory Theatre tackles difficult scripts, and we admire that. We’re looking forward to their production in September Mr. Bengt’s Wife, a play so obscure that this’ll be the English-language premier.

- Steve Capra

 


- March 2013