7 TO 22, 2020
THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY, 155 FIRST AVE.
AUGUST STRINDBERG'S "THE PELICAN" AND "ISLE OF
TRANSLATED AND DIRECTED BY ROBERT GREER
"Isle of the Dead"
by Arnold Böcklin
greatest modernist playwright, August Strindberg, returned from
the Continent to Stockholm in 1906, where he lived out his last
seven years. There he wrote "The Pelican" for his Intimate
Theater in 1907 and "Isle of the Dead" (Toten-Insel)
immediately after as a prologue. The latter was unpublished until
1918 and rediscovered in the early 60s, when it was found and
promptly dismissed as an incomplete fragment. The two plays were
finally reunited by Ingmar Bergman in a radio version in 2003.
It was his last dramatic production. From February 6 to 22 August
Strindberg Rep, a resident company of Theater for the New City
(TNC), brought the two plays to the stage together for the first
time in history. It was also be the world premiere of new English
translations of both plays by Robert Greer, Artistic Director
of Strindberg Rep, who helmed the production.
|In "Isle of the Dead,"
The Teacher (Gabe Bettio) reveals to The Dead (Brad Fryman)
truths of his life by showing him "The Pelican."
Behind: Jay William Thomas in "The Pelican."
||In "The Pelican,"
Margaret, the maid (Mary Tierney) confronts the diabolical
wife, Elise (Natalie Menna).
"Isle of the Dead," a middle-school teacher who has
died in his sleep wakes up to find an enlightened spirit sitting
next to him. This spirit tries without success to explain to the
teacher that he no longer need concern himself with such mundane
matters as grading papers before class. Finally, the spirit instructs
the benighted teacher to watch a play with him. The play is "The
|Axel (Ryan Feyk) and Elise (Natalie Menna)
search her deceased husband's desk for hidden drawers.
||Fredrik (Jay William Thomas) and Gertrude
(Baily Newman) aginize over their mother's wickedness.
"The Pelican," a vivacious young widow has eyes for
her newly-married son-in-law. The moral turpitude of it is driving
her son to drink. Throughout her children's lives, the widow denied
them food and firewood, unwilling to "squander" money
that she is actually stealing for herself. The son finds a letter
from his late father recounting her cruelty -- how will he avenge
her betrayal? The play's title comes from an erroneous myth of
nature: the mother pelican feeds her chicks ground-up fish from
her beak, but in earlier times, this was thought to be her own
blood, making the bird a mistaken example of charity and sacrifice.
In a wicked note of irony, the mother was honored with verses
about the pelican's sacrifice at her daughter's wedding. The production
was set in 1927, twenty years after the play premiered in Sweden.
|Elise (Natalie Menna), in cahoots with her
son-in-law Axel (Ryan Feyk), hides her deceased husband's
letter from her daughter, Gertrude (Baily Newman).
||Gertrude (Baily Newman) and Fredrik (Jay
William Thomas) watch their house burning around them.
explains that Strindberg had gone through a variety of religious
experiences and three marriages and was looking back on his life,
but not writing autobiographically. In fact, "The Pelican"
is his least autobiographical play. His interest was to explore
the source of folly and misunderstanding. These two plays together
express Strindberg's hope for coming to peace with, if not understanding,
his life. Of the two plays, "Isle of the Dead" is the
naturalistic one. "The Pelican" is like a fairy tale
or parable with an evil mother, a son, a daughter and a son in
law. They correspond roughly to the deceased teacher's family
members who are discussed in "Isle of the Dead." As
he witnesses "The Pelican," the teacher sees a fairy
tale on the evils of mankind in the hope that it will improve
him. It's like a deceased person in purgatory seeing a very naturalistic
parable for his edification. Greer compares Strindberg's device
to medieval churches that have paintings of torments of the saints
on the wall, but the device is turned inside-out because ordinarily,
"Isle of the Dead" would be the fantasy play.
production of "The Pelican" at The Intimate
The idea of
producing the plays onstage together dates back to 2013 when it
was suggested to Robert Greer by Magnus Florin, who at the time
was on the advisory board of August Strindberg Rep. Florin had
produced Bergman's radio version of the two plays and had been
chief dramaturge of the Royal Theater in Stockholm. In consultations
with Greer, Florin explained that to his knowledge and research,
the two plays had never been mounted together onstage as Strindberg
intended, and that this would be a rare opportunity in Strindberg's
enormous oevre for a true world premiere.
Pelican" was performed by Strindberg Rep core company members
Natalie Menna, Bailey Newman and Mary Tierney* and guest artists
Ryan Feyk and Jay William Thomas. "Isle of the Dead"
was acted by company core members Brad Fryman* and Gabe Bettio.*
wasJose F. Ruiz. Set design was by Mark Marcante. Lighting design
was by Alexander Bartenieff. Prop design was by Litza Colon. Costume
design was by Janet Mervin. Sound design was by Roy T. Chang.
"One hopes that this new translation gets to live on beyond
New York and be seen by countless other audience members."
Reviews Hub (Maggie McMuffin)
new translation from Swedish into English by Robert Greer, the
Artistic Director of The Strindberg Rep and director of this production,
has dramatic bite and lays bare the psychic angst of the characters.
And I have to say, it is Strindberg at his most virulently morbid
in an Expressionist style that almost anticipates theater of the
Fryman appears in “The Isle of the Dead” as the Dead
Man who laments his wasted life and simply wants to sleep....
Mr. Fryman, however, also betrays his lament with an undercurrent
of a sly roguish quality that modifies his male victimhood....
In “The Pelican” the dominant part of the wife Elise
is played by Natalie Menna. She is a veritable virago, bitter
and harsh, but also pitiably desperate when she feels that she
is losing her hold on people.-- New
York Theatre Wire (Beate Hein Bennett)