Written by Jon Fosse
Jon Fosse made accessible to a US audience
|Akvavit Theatre presents|
Review by Keith Glab
Jon Fosse’s works have been produced more than any other living European playwright’s, yet his plays rarely see the light of day in the United States. Akvavit Theatre is doing their part to balance the scales, presenting three of Fosse’s works in rotation under the unified title of Gjenganger. Two of these plays are making their Chicago debut, one is making its US debut, and never before have the three works been presented together in this fashion.
Fosse’s work is both so interesting and so difficult to perform because the subtext and the things that are left unsaid often rank as more important than the actual text, which is ostensibly banal and repetitive. For the most part, Akvavit does a terrific job of adding layers of depth to Fosse’s foundation and keeping audience attention rapt.
A Summer’s Day tells the tale of an Older Woman (Jan Sodaro) who relives a crucial moment in her life. Her husband, Asle (Joshua K. Harris), is heading out to sea like any other day, but both she and her younger self (Marika Mashburn) can detect something different about his pending departure on this particular day. Harris conveys a nuanced despair, and while there’s nothing explicit in the script as to why he is so miserable, it’s clear that Harris knows why and puts enough into his performance to allow the audience to color in their own conclusions.
There is no turn in this narrative; what you think is going to happen simply proceeds in an excruciatingly methodical manner. Like the Older Woman, we watch the inevitable tragedy unfold, powerless to help. As presented, A Summer’s Day has a strangely compelling rhythm that ties your stomach into knots.
Autumn Dream creates even more atmosphere, as a Man (Beau Forbes) and Woman (Kirstin Franklin) live out their entire history together in a graveyard. Their relationship is explored seamlessly from a chance (or fated?) tryst to the Woman finally meeting the Man’s parents (who resent her for breaking up the Man with his first wife and son), to the entire spectrum of hot/cold and love/hate during their married life.
The two main actors generate a good give-and-take chemistry, but Franklin’s subtlety, energy, and depth highlight the entire evening. She also plays well off Susan Fay, the Man’s passive-aggressive mother who does about 90% of the talking in her scenes. The Man from Autumn Dream could in fact be Asle from A Summer’s Day, but the cast doesn’t cultivate this connection through mirrored performances.
Winter doesn’t have even this hint of connection to the two other plays, but it ranks as the least effective of the triptych independent of that assessment. Akvavit Managing Artistic Director Bergen Anderson plays a Woman in an apparently altered state who seduces a married Man (Corey Noble) into taking her to his hotel room. Although the physical interplay between the two in the room is minimal, the Man is profoundly affected by the encounter in more ways than one.
Anderson gives a nice contrast between the manic seductress and a sober version that the Man encounters days later, but Fosse’s language sounds more awkward coming from both her and Noble as compared to the actors in the other two plays. It’s awkwardly staged with choppy pacing, and Noble makes very safe, deliberate choices in a role that affords him a lot more with which to work.
Despite the shortcomings of Winter, Gjenganger deserves praise for the ambitiousness of its undertaking, particularly for a relatively young theatre company. It delves into an array of human conditions in an honest, thought-provoking, and entertaining manner. Your best bet is to attend on a Saturday and experience a heartbreaking Summer’s Day and a mind-bending Autumn Dream.
Gjenganger continues through March 24th at DCASE Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm. All three plays perform on Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$22, and are available by phone (800-595-6849) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AkvavitTheatre.org. (Running time: Summer – 75 minutes, Autumn – 80 minutes, Winter – 60 minutes. On Sundays there is a 15-20 minute intermission between shows)
Photos by Sooz Main
A Summer’s Day: Joshua K. Harris (Asle), Marika Mashburn (The Younger Woman), Mimi Sagadin (Older Friend), Jan Sodaro (Older Woman), Mandy Walsh (Younger Friend) Autumn Dream: Deborah Craft (Gry), Susan Fay (Mother), Kirstin Franklin (Woman), Beau Forbes (Man), Mark Litwicki (Father), Judith Laughlin (Understudy) Winter: Bergen Anderson (Woman), Corey Noble (Man)
behind the scenes
Wm. Bullion (director for Summer); Kate Booth (asst. director for Summer); Phil Claudnic (stage manager for Summer); Breahan Eve Pautsch (director for Autumn); Catherine Connelly (stage manager for Autumn); Paul S. Holmquist (director for Winter); Rachel Staelens (stage manager for Winter); Kyle Korynta (translator); Chad Eric Bergman (set design, dramaturg); Kristina Carr (costumes); Nigel Harsch (sound design); Dag Juhlin (composer); Jared Moore (lighting); Sooz Main (photos)