The Frozen on the Square (1982)
A meta-theatrical mindbender
|Akvavit Theatre Company presents|
|The Frozen on the Square (1982)|
Review by Keith Glab
Swedish film and theatre legend Ingmar Bergman returns to his diminutive hometown to film Fanny & Alexander, an epic 5+ hour masterpiece. Lucas Svensson’s postmodern The Frozen on the Square (1982) follows the lives of four quirky extras cast in this film.
As revered as Bergman (Rob Cramer, a strong resemblance) might be in Sweden, the average American knows very little about him. Therefore, it feels like a lot of commentary and even comedy in this piece gets lost on an American audience. The play contains interesting bits of metatheatre and nonlinear time, but they are either underdeveloped or require a knowledge of Ingmar Bergman’s work more intimate than the vast majority of an audience here would have.
Utter commitment from the four principal actors carries this production in the absence of clear narrative structure. Susann (Bergen Anderson) and David (Andrew Fortman) form a twenty-something couple whose relationship is hanging together by a thread. On set, Susann catches the eye of Sven (Dan Wilson), who is accompanied by his mother (Paulette Hicks), a veteran extra of Bergman’s films.
Sven and Nanny not only live together, but they also exhibit an uncomfortably inappropriate relationship. They invite the young couple to dinner at their place, where Susann reveals that she’s pregnant from another man she met while David was away in New York, ostensibly exploring his own sexuality.
The three younger characters behave with extreme volatility – shifting from brutally blunt to passive aggressive; loving one minute then abrasive the next; analytically calm then a slave to passion. Hicks’ Nanny acts as a somewhat grounding influence on the surrounding cacophony of absurdity, though she is far from a vanilla character herself. Even though as an audience we often don’t understand what precipitates these sudden changes in behavior, we don’t doubt for an instant that the actors understand it themselves due to their strong choices. This hot-and-cold lust quadrangle proves captivating to behold.
We become quite invested in these relationships, but sometimes get jarred away from them by seemingly irrelevant vignettes, such as a bumbling TV reporter (Melissa Reeves) struggling to interview Bergman’s taciturn assistant director (Ben Schlotfelt). These vignettes can be entertaining, but they distract from the real focus of the play.
Chad Eric Bergman’s gorgeous angled set of cobblestones encased in red proscenium curtains helps make some sense of the mind-bending conclusion and still proves quite functional throughout. The other tech aspects, from the smoke machine producing mist to intricately designed props, contribute to an atmospheric production.
Akvavit Theatre once again mounts a challenging Nordic play and cultivates interesting moments that might not be obvious from a simple reading of the text. But this time they don’t do quite enough to elucidate its meaning to make it accessible for an audience here in the States.
The Frozen on the Square (1982) continues through November 9th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AkvavitTheatre.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Sooz Main
Bergen Anderson (Susann), Rob Cramer (Ingmar Bergman), Elyse Dawson (Photographer, u/s Susann), Andrew Fortman (David), Paulette Hicks (Nanny), Jordan Scott Johnson (A Friend Named Ben), Mark Litwicki (Jorn Donner), Melissa Reeves (TV Announcer), Ben Schlotfelt (Peter Schildy), Dan Wilson (Sven)
behind the scenes
Breahan Eve Pautsch (director), Chad Eric Bergman (set designer, translator), Susan Fay (choreographer), Maggie Fullilove-Nugent (lighting design), Christina Marcantonio (costume design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Alan Weusthoff (technical director), Catherine Connelly (stage manager), Sooz Main (photos)