Saturday, February 16, 2008

Peer Gynt (The SOB Review)

Peer Gynt (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapo-lis, MN

* (out of ****)

Ever seen a show where the actors are clearly having much more fun than their audience?

From the moment you step foot inside the Guthrie's largest theatre for this Minnesodaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt -- with a surprise 50th birthday celebration already in high gear -- it's clear that the actors are enjoying themselves a little more than they should.

And that they sustain their own personal fun for the next three hours -- as the script meanders from a wedding where a bride runs off with the title character to a troll kingdom to the coast of Morocco to an insane asylum in Cairo to a place not unlike what I’d envision a place like purgatory would be -- certainly says something for Peer Gynt's large ensemble. Sadly, they rarely achieve a similar response in return from the audience.

In her analysis of the playwright, M.C. Bradbrook wrote that "Ibsen’s use of the troll is more than the invocation of a piece of folklore, it is a poetic mode of stating what could not otherwise be stated except at tedious length, thereby losing its force and becoming another thing."

Try telling that to poet Robert Bly and renowned Shakespearean director Tim Carroll who have teamed up to painstakingly stage Ibsen’s rhythmic “dramatic” poem that was initially intended only to be read.

It’s obvious to me that this adaptation, which Bly poetically translated to a fault is not quite what Bradbrook -- or Ibsen for that matter -- had in mind. Sure it's ambitious, but the sprawling mess is unmistakably dull.

Bly's translation is not a mere straight-forward retelling of Peer Gynt. Instead, he turns Ibsen's fairy tale into an ill-conceived, freakishly wild nightmare dreamt by Peter (master Shakespearean actor and current Olivier nominee Mark Rylance, ironically sounding a bit like Bobby Anderson in "It's A Wonderful Life"), a modern-day Minnesotan who's on the receiving end of the aforementioned half century mark surprise party. Carroll takes this theatre of the absurd to a preposterous level, seeing to it that tedium rises with it to unparalleled heights.

Curiously enough, when the stage floor boards come undone via Laura Hopkins' mesmerizing undulating set design, Peer Gynt's lack of cohesion is unintentionally underscored. It's the play's one true spectacular moment.

But in a show that ostensibly asks its title character whether being yourself is good enough, it’s my sad duty to report that this Peer Gynt is not.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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At 07 February, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this review was so helpful.
I was about to buy $100 worth of tickets
for myself and three children and now
wonder if I should.
Thanks for some Idea of what this production would offer,.


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