Tuesday 31 May 2016

Theatre Review: The Father, August Strindberg, Theatre for a New Audience, Brooklyn, New York

Two weeks ago, I reviewed director Jeffery Horowitz’s production of Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. Last week, I saw the same company and creative team bring to life August Strindberg’s 1887 The Father.

Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson in The Father
The two plays share many themes and, in some ways, parallel casts of characters so the decision to stage the contemporary (and rival) playwrights’ pieces in such a complementary way is an understandable one.

Here it is the father of the house, the Captain (John Douglas Thompson), whose behaviour is increasingly erratic, mirroring that of Nora in the earlier play. He’s driven mad by the uncertainty of paternity and manipulated by his wife Laura (Maggie Lacey) who sets up an unrelenting campaign against him to win control of their daughter Bertha, baulking at the unfairness of nineteenth-century marriage laws.

John Douglas Thompson in The Father
As with A Doll’s House, the ending is twisted in this production. Bertha’s cry of ‘mother’ is an accusatory one, shifting our focus again to how the remaining parent (here the mother) can remedy the loss of the other (a more modern consideration than those Strindberg and Ibsen were tackling).

Initially the inferior position of women is much more obvious than in A Doll’s House. A philandering soldier, Nordstrom (Christian J. Mallen), refuses to admit his responsibility for a servant girl’s pregnancy in a scene that firmly establishes the sexual double standard. But in this production it was hard to sympathise with the lack of options attendant on Laura’s plight. Thompson’s Captain is a little too weak too quickly and his madness seems over-egged. We’re left doubting how necessary it is that she push him over the edge.

Laurie Kennedy in The Father
Laurie Kennedy does a great job as Margaret, the Captain’s aged childhood nurse, and generally this feels like much more of an ensemble piece than its sister production.

After watching both plays, the overall message of these productions, for me, though remains confused. Apart from feeling sorry for the children what do we take from plays that apply twenty-first century issues to a nineteenth-century setting? Are the genders still at war or are we meant to conclude that being a father is the much less enviable position?

The Father is on at TFANA in Brooklyn until June 12. You can purchase tickets here.

Are there any other NYC productions you’d like to see the Secret Victorianist review? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Monday 23 May 2016

Theatre Review: The Judas Kiss, David Hare, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York

I first saw David Hare’s 1998 The Judas Kiss in 2012 at Hampstead Theatre in London. Four years on, the production, directed by Neil Armfield, has come to Brooklyn, with four of the seven-person cast unchanged, including Rupert Everett as a charismatic, but ultimately broken, Oscar Wilde.

The play is in two acts. The first is set in 1895, just before Wilde’s arrest and imprisonment. Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch) begs Wilde to flee the country while Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, (Charlie Rowe), pins his hopes on a last minute reprieve from the Home Office.

Everett and Rowe as Wilde and Bosie
The second act skips forward in time to after Wilde’s imprisonment, as he and Bosie live their last few months together in poverty and obscurity near Naples. Hare has more room for imaginative speculation here than in the first act, where much of the evening’s drama is a matter of historical record. His Bosie has moments of redemption, despite his general unreasonableness and it is left to him—not Wilde—to give a vocal defence of homosexuality, despite Wilde’s eloquence on the subject in the here elided trial.

In Act One, light relief comes from Wilde’s quips (delivered with panache by Everett) and the antics of the hotel staff (two of them begin the production in flagrante, setting the tone for a production that doesn’t shy away from repeated full frontal nudity). In Act Two, an Italian fisherman, Galileo (Tom Colley), plays a similar role, but, while the audience still titters, his tryst with Bosie has a darker edge, reflecting as it does on the now muted, and static, Wilde.

Jessie Hills, Elliot Balchin and Alister Cameron as the hotel staff
Watching the production again, four years on and in a very different theatre, many of my reactions were similar. Most notably, on both occasions, I found there was a predictability in Wilde’s character, and his witticisms, which makes the play feel familiar even to a first time viewer. Everett’s characterisation is spot on, but you can’t help but wonder about the play—what is this adding to our understanding of Wilde, his arrest and Victorian attitudes to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’? The first time I watched the play though, the tragedy of Ross’s character hit me much harder—watching in Brooklyn it definitely seemed this was the story of Wilde’s tragedy, and Rupert Everett’s play.

The Judas Kiss will be performed at BAM until June 12. You can purchase tickets here.

Do you know of any plays in NYC you think the Secret Victorianist should review? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Theatre Review: A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen, Theatre for a New Audience, Brooklyn, New York

In Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism, Toril Moi writes that Nora, protagonist of his 1879 A Doll’s House begins ‘by being a Hegelian mother and daughter’ but ‘ends by discovering that she too can be an individual, and that this can be done only if she relates to the society she lives in directly, and not indirectly through her husband’. In Arin Arbus’s traditionally costumed production, currently in repertory at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, it is this transformation that is most successfully wrought.

Maggie Lacey’s Nora flits around in the early scenes, restless and alternately charming and irritating as a child (which works well with the traverse staging). As the pressure on her intensifies, she becomes increasingly manic. She invades the personal space of her interlocutors (Thorwald, Christina and Dr Rank) and displays a greater self-consciousness of the effects she—and explicitly her attractiveness—can have on others. At the drama’s famous conclusion, Lacey plays Nora entirely still. She stands tall for the first time, unmoved by her husband Thorwald (John Douglas Thompson) and his protestations.

Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson
This is always a challenge in A Doll’s House. The audience must feel that Nora’s departure—the rupturing of the middle class family unit—isn’t just plausible, but unavoidable. This production pulls it off but there is a slight shift in perspective in the final seconds. Rather than end the production with Nora slamming the door—presumably leaving the doll’s house for good—Arbus has her children, Ivar and Emmy (Ruben Almash and Jayla Lavender Nicholas), appear in the room to face the abandoned Thorwald.

The question of how a man like Thorwald could adapt to single parenthood might be an interesting one for modern audiences but it feels like a slight disservice to Ibsen’s vision, even if it isn’t the same ‘barbaric outrage’ that he complained of when A Doll’s House was adapted for the German stage. (In the German alternate ending Nora gives up her newly gained sense of personhood when confronted with the realities of her maternity).

The subplots didn’t quite have the impact they did in the previous A Doll’s House I was lucky enough to see—the Young Vic’s acclaimed 2013 production. Here, Dr Rank (Nigel Gore)’s impending death seemed something of a side note and the rekindling of Krogstad (Jesse J. Perez)’s relationship perfunctory. Yet overall TFANA’s A Doll’s House is well worth seeing. The leads are strong, the production is well designed, the colour-blind casting of a nineteenth-century play is a breath of fresh air and the spirit of Ibsen’s drama is undeniably captured.

A Doll’s House will be performed at TFANA until June 12th—you can purchase tickets here.

Do you know of any NYC productions you’d like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.