Monday, July 18, 2005

Comedy by Strindberg

I recently attended a performance at the Berkshire Theater Festival of The Father by Strindberg, very, very serious stuff. Swedish angst. Ingmar Bergman live, so to speak. Then why was the audience laughing so much?

A husband and wife hate each other--so far, so good. The main object of their power struggle is the education of their adolescent daughter. Is she to go to town or stay at home? Husband's monologue: all these women in the house are driving me crazy. Much tearing of hair and chewing of scenery, accompanied by stifled giggles from the audience, who are trying to behave. H complains that he keeps writing to his bookseller and ordering books but does not recieve them. Intercepts letter from bookseller announcing that wife has countermanded his orders. More dire pronouncements about women. More giggling, not so stifled this time, by audience.

Wife enters. Not much sympathy for her, as she looks and acts like Cruella deVil, or better yet, the evil stepmother in Snow White.

A spirit,(of what?) so far visible only through a scrim, brings a lantern and hangs it up, and puts a letter on the desk. Contents of letter never revealed, but wife sees it and dramatically tears it up, uttering hysterical cry. There's also a doddering old nurse with osteoporosis who intrudes now and then, dodders a bit, and wrings her hands.

In monologue, wife hatches plot to drive husband crazy. Plot works instantly. H throws lantern at her. He goes nuts, falls on floor, doctor announces he has had a stroke. Curtain falls, to roars from audience which has by now lost all inhibition.

These fun-loving Swedes!

It's well known that Strindberg went nuts a number of times. He also had three wives but could never get it right. Even in his most normal moments, I doubt he was much fun to be around.

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