Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ibsen - Rosmersholm - Greatest First Half Ever? and then what?

Mostly because of our July time in Oslo, especially the time at the Ibsen museum, we went to see the Rosmsersholm production at the Shaw Festival this weekend.
What I felt at the end of the first act was 'Wow!'. Generally I think it was really great writing (though I cannot recover the life of the mid-1870s wherever it was set in Ibsen's imagination enough to get the detailed issues - it was interesting, as 'liberalism' was being used to mean leftism, which I would not credit today, and its opposite was clearly state control on moral grounds. I think in the last years the rationale for state interference with people's lives has changed.) And yet the dramatic part was unquestionably solid.
On the other hand, it was harder to make sense of the second act, as so much was made of the recovery ot Rosmer's 'innocence' (and I had never got why anyone should care, except him - and even then, he should just have grown up and accepted that maybe he was not perfect). But there is a really tough question for Rosmer - and he seems to try out about every answer. One is to expiate Rebecca's sins by proposing to her again! And then he wrings his hands for a pointless period. Finally he tells her that she needs to commit suicide to expiate her sins and make him feel good. Aaarrrggh. What was this? Part of it I could see as a (sort of) Norwegian - but I would expect them to commit suicide themselves, not ask their profoundly desired lovers to do it.
No doubt I need to read a lot of literary criticism on this. I was a bit distrustful of the staging, and my scan of the Project Gutenberg version of the play suggests someone took liberties (though I think the Project Gutenberg one is bad enough I might buy the idea it was this specific translation that confused me). The final staging, a dance between Rosmer and Rebecca, had them leave the stage together. This does reflect the words if not the staging.
The Project Gutenberg translation repeatedly talks about the White Horses of Rosmersholm, and the Project Gutenberg translation about the White Mists of Rosmersholm.
There seems to be a big difference. No doubt someone can tell me better.
The acting, as I so often assert, was very good.
Peter Hutt was superb - the right mix of malevolence, and still drawing understanding of his situation. Patricia Hamilton continues her tour de force career as the straight-talking household help. I thought Waneta Storms was pretty good as Rebecca, though this was my first time seeing this play - I would love to see a production where she is more openly unsympathetic, and the other way around. (She did get past the fact that I has seen her in the worst play I ver tried towatch in Toronto, called 'Clout'.)
Everybody else was at worst REALLY good. Patrick Gilligan's sweet Irish voice gave Rosmer the innocent idiocy that seems key to what I thought Ibsen was getting at (but I am not sure).


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