BY AUGUST STRINDBERG
MARCH 13 TO 29, 2015 -- GENE FRANKEL THEATRE
Presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association
with Theater Resources Unlimited.
Ivette Dumeng and Sergio Castillo. Photo by Rosalie Baijer.
Strindberg's "Kristina" (1903), a queen reared to be
a man fights for her self existence, against her feminine nature
and succumbing to it. The play is the unacknowledged basis for
the Garbo film "Queen Christina." In this skillful study
of a neurotic and complex woman, Strindberg reveals the power
of his dramatic conceptions and the mastery he had acquired of
his craft. The play was the last of a series of Strindberg's later
historical dramas that are among the most powerful plays of the
kind produced in modern times. The masterpiece was translated
from the Swedish by Wendy Weckwerth and directed by Whitney Aronson.
The play centers
on the scandals leading up to Kristina's abdication of the throne
of Sweden in 1654, which was a product of chiefly two causes:
accusations that she had stolen or squandered a five million daler
tribute from the Peace of Westphalia and rumors of her impending
conversion to Roman Catholicism. In the events leading up to her
abdication, she is shown struggling against her old lovers and
mentors, putting on ballets to distract from her financial misconduct,
fighting against her feminine nature and succumbing to it. Her
realistic, even naturalistic portrayal in the play cast Strindberg
as revisionist historian of sorts: prior histories of Swedish
monarchs all made them out to be noble, despite their flaws. For
"telling it as it is," Strindberg is still hated by
the Swedish right wing.
of history is a complex and mystifying figure. Daughter of Gustav
Adolph (Gustav the Great), she was reared as a man and fought
a lifelong struggle to prove that a woman could rule as a king.
She antagonized her domestic power base by insisting on a negotiated
settlement to the Thirty Years War and aspired to the arts of
peace: philosophy, religion and science (as minimal as it was
in her time). An edified mind, educated far beyond her surroundings,
she made great strides in bringing Sweden into the Enlightenment.
She even brought Descartes to Sweden to be her personal tutor.
But to stay in power, she gave out titles willy-nilly in a kingdom
strapped by decades of war, so she basically bankrupted it.
From an early
age, she was entranced by Catholicism, which brought her into
conflict with the Lutheran establishment. After her abdication,
she converted to the Church of Rome and moved there, installing
her cousin, Charles Gustav, as King, and stripping her palace
of its treasures and furnishings. She lived in debt for the rest
of her days, in and out of favor with the Pope, making herself
a patron to the arts and aspiring to the throne of Naples. Her
politics and rebellious spirit persisted long after her abdication.
In 1686, she defended the Hugenots of France in an indignant letter
to the French ambassador. The same year, she made Pope Clement
X prohibit the custom of chasing Jews through the streets during
the carnival, proclaiming the Jews of the city to be under her
charismatic, Kristina reigned surrounded by a sea of men trying
to tell her what to do. Contrary by nature, she would willfully
defy the advice of her mentors, particularly Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna,
her father's chief adviser. Throughout her life, she refused to
wear women's shoes, wore a sword, walked like a man and overthrew
conventions of what was expected of a woman. Over the course of
the play, she is discovering who she is and putting on a lot of
masks. Strindberg wrote in his Open Letters to the Intimate Theater
(1907 ff.), "Christina was so genuine a woman that she was
a woman hater. In her memoirs she says frankly that women should
never be permitted to rule. That she did not want to get married
I think natural, and that she who had played with love was caught
in her own net, is, of course, highly dramatic." In putting
his interpretation into dramatic form, he applied the "naturalistic"
techniques of dialogue, dramatic structure, motivation and characterization
that he had used in "Miss Julie" (1888) and "Creditors"
made no effort to evoke the famous Garbo film, which is one of
the great costume dramas of Hollywood's early sound films and
hinges on a largely made-up romance between Kristina and the Spanish
envoy, Antonio Pimentel de Prado. Its new adaptation by Wendy
Weckworth, premiering here, rendered the play into fairly contemporary
diction. The production used elements of the 1920's to simulate
the 1600's (Kristina wore pants, which were first adopted by women
in the 20's, and both periods were postwar epochs). Scenery relied
largely on projected backgrounds.
The play featured
Ivette Dumeng as Kristina, with Sergio Castillo as Holm (a tailor),
Martin Boersma as Steinberg (a minister), Brent Shultz asClaes
Tott (a lover of the Queen), Amy Fulgham as Maria Eleanora (the
Queen Mother), Jacob Troy as Magnus De La Gardie (a jilted lover),
Al Foote III as Chamberlain Axel Oxenstierna, Reginald Wilson
as Pimentelli (the Spanish envoy), Steve Shoup as Allerts (a merchant),
Eric C. Bailey as Tavern Keeper, Michael Cirelli as Farmer and
Christine Nyland as Ebba Spare (the queen's friend, supposed widely
to be her lesbian lover). Lighting design was by Miriam Crowe.
Projection and graphic design were by Mikhail Poloskin. Costume
design was by Jessa-Raye Court. Sound design was by Andy Evan
Dumeng as Kristins.
Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Gail Aronson, the company’s associate artistic director,
takes a stab at this rarely staged work and makes it accessible
to the audience. With no fuss or frills, Aronson brings to life
the vibrant personality of Kristina—and one can’t
help but feel this 16th century figure become palpable in the
flesh and blood....The real star of the production, however, is
the controversial playwright Strindberg. His Kristina may never
enjoy the laurels of Miss Julie. But it will always stand in bold
relief in his canon. And attention must be paid." --
Deirdra Donovan, Theater
the free-spirited queen, Ivette Dumeng captures both the arrogance
and the vulnerability of a woman who has a towering responsibility
that she might not really want. Other standouts in the cast include
Brent Shultz as Kristina’s passionate new lover and Amy
Fulgham as her loving mother."
-- Regina Robbins, Theatre
Dumeng makes a wonderful Kristina who is attractive, intelligent
and behaves like a teenager who throws a wild party when her parents
leave town. Jacob Troy, as Magnus, brings a serious parental tone
to the court as he watches Kristina play at monarchy. Brent Shultz’s
Tott makes sense of an ambiguous character in love with an idea
rather than a human being. The large cast solidly supports the
-- Jean Sidden, Front