INTIMATE AND TWISTED - LOVE, THE STRINDBERG WAY


Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife

Writer, Non-Registered Critics


 

BONO AND THE EDGE WAITING FOR GODOMINO'S - two more shows at the Whitefire!

This very funny show originated at the 2017 Fringe and has moved to the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Blvd, where it has two more performances.  Here is my coverage from last summer:  "While a parody of Beckett's Waiting for Godot that will appeal to all theater geeks, it's also a hoot for the general public in its spin around the recordings of U2, notable both for their great musicianship and their sometimes pretentious self-seriousness.  All the actors are wonderful, and the final twist that comes with the arrival of the longed-for pizza takes it to another level.  Do the bandmates finally find what they are looking for?"  Catch it on Saturdays at 10 pm to find out!

 

THE DANCE OF DEATH by August Strindberg, adapted by Conor McPherson, at the Odyssey Theatre

Jeff LeBeau, Lizzy Kimball and Darrell Larson in "The Dance of Death"

 

August Strindberg  is well-known for plays like The Father and Miss Julie, that depict a battle of the sexes so vicious that it could more accurately be called a cage match to the death.  These plays were ripped from his own pain, from his three failed marriages and the five children he ended up having no relationship with, from the terrible episodes of paranoia that afflicted him.  But it was not always so.

In 1875, aspiring writer August Strindberg met the love of his life, aspiring actress Siri von Essen.  Two years later they were married.  While their first child was stillborn, they went on to have three healthy children together, two girls and a boy.  Meanwhile, Siri was accepted into the acting company of the Royal Court in Stockholm, where she acted in the early plays of her husband's, among many others.  In early 1882, Strindberg stated his purpose: "My interest in the theatre, I must frankly state, has but one focus and one goal - my wife's career as an actress."  He followed up his early plays with a collection of short fiction, Getting Married, that advocated the equality of women so enthusiastically that Strindberg was sued for blasphemy by right-wing groups in Sweden.  (He was acquitted.)

What I really enjoyed about Ron Sossi's production of Strindberg's Dance of Death was that it captured this sense of deep love lost, of passion that has curdled into lingering disappointment.  In the play, Edgar (Darrell Larson) and Alice (Lizzy Kimball) are on the verge of their 25th anniversary.  Edgar is a Captain of the Guards, Alice is a former actress in Copenhagen.  They live in a converted prison facing the sea, where they have no friends in the village.  They've had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom have gotten far away and have as little to do with their parents as possible.  Edgar and Alice have no more career aspirations, they have run through what money they had and have just lost their one servant, with little chance of attracting another.  Familiarity has indeed bred contempt, and they are depressingly familiar with every aspect of each other.  And yet, and yet, and yet - there is still love there.  Or at least the memory of it.

Into this impossible tangle comes Kurt (Jeff LeBeau), Alice's cousin and the person who first introduced her to Edgar.  He is the new quarrantine officer for the island and has come here "seeking peace" he says, after having lost his three children in a brutal custody battle.  What happens instead is that Kurt becomes a pawn in the war between Alice and Edgar.  As it turns out, cousins Alice and Kurt had a love affair which ended when Kurt got married; in fact, that was his purpose in introducing Alice to Edgar, to have him take her off his hands. LeBeau does a wonderful job in bringing Kurt to vivid life, especially as he falls more and more under the influence of cousin Alice.  He puts just the right comic spin on the character, while retaining the pathos of a dedicated family man who is lost without his children, whose only real sense of purpose comes from being the head of a family.

Lizzy Kimball and Darrell Larson, under Sossi's direction, are expert at mining all the dark humor they can find in the twists and turns of Alice and Edgar's epic battles.  They convincingly portray the strong bond of love and hate that still keeps them together but brings them no joy, that's a source of torment that still feels like home.  The McPherson adaptation brilliantly clears away all the local color of the time, the distracting minor characters and Strindberg's jabs at the legal codes of the day, to come up with a richly concentrated version of Strindberg's play, one that speaks vividly to contemporary audiences.

It also brings out with great clarity the enormous influence that this play has had on succeeding generations of playwrights.  There are echoes of Beckett, O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and, most of all, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  All of this in the kind of intimate theater that Strindberg first conceived of in the early 20th Century - his was 160 seats, this one is 99, but the principle is the same.  And it provides a very intimate setting in which to get to know these deeply flawed characters in this deeply human dilemma.

For tickets, click here.

 

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