Art by Victor Kalka
Reviewing a script reading is really different to reading a play. What I saw last night was not a final product, but rather a work-in-progress made open to the public, intended to enrich the final product by involving audiences in the artistic process. This is a practice I entirely endorse in abstract, and in practice tends to result in better art.
As a result, this isn’t really a review, it’s just feedback.
Peer Gynt is a play by Ibsen, one of his earlier ones, and a radically different one from his famous plays like A Doll’s House. It is five acts of Norwegian verse, and uses fantasy and folklorish elements, in part in service of heavily literal metaphor about the nature of sin and death.
In this adaption, playwrights Victor Kalka & Hal Conyngham (who have officially listed themselves as ‘curators’ of the work) have adapted the work radically. Because there is no modern English translation, they removed the verse, reduced the number of characters (from a truly absurd size to a much more manageable one) and reduced the length. It is quite incredible to go to the effort of retranslating the work and I congratulate them on this already at least partly successful, work-in-progress script they have created.
The reduction of the length of the play from five acts to two is an extreme shift, and one with which I don’t think they have fully dealt. There are some dramatic moments in the play that truly have the potential to be deeply moving, but aren’t. Perhaps this could be resolved by including more scenes with less action- scenes that give us time to really get to know the characters, and fall in love with them, without being distracted by conceptual or dramatic elements.
Some of the more surreal moments of the play are both weakness and strength, in that they can be both alienating and interesting. I think this is exacerbated by the fact that often I felt the intended meaning was unclear. It is clear this is the sort of work for which set and lighting design will be very important.
The performance of the reading was charming, and it was a lovely evening out. I am excited to see the final product. While I do think the script needs work, I extend my congratulations to the immense effort put into this work so far.
Peer Gynt runs until February 12th in The Cellar Theatre. Find more information here.