House" by August Strindberg, translated by Robert Greer,
adapted and directed by Whitney Aronson
October 4 to
29, 2015 - Gene Frankel Theatre
Presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association
with Theater Resources Unlimited.
Performed in rotation with "The Storm" by August Strindberg,
adapted and directed by Robert Greer
Macdonald (The Stranger) and Jason Paul Tate (The Dyer).
Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
a man's house comes down, so do the layers of secrets he has built
his life on in August Strindberg's "Burnt House." The
play was staged in a new translation by Robert Greer that was
adapted and directed by Whitney Gail Aronson. "Burnt House"
is Opus 2 of Strindberg's late-career Chamber Plays. As part of
a month-long examination of Strindberg's final works, it was staged
in rotating repertory with Opus 1 of the Chamber Plays, "The
Storm," adapted and directed by Greer.
"Burnt House" is the story of a dyer
of fabrics whose house has burned down. There are a number of
suspects and anyone could be the culprit. Adultery, family criminal
activity, and old sibling rivalries emerge as the mystery unfolds.
Not only has his house been destroyed, but also the metaphorical
walls the house owner has erected.
The play takes place in the cinders of a burned
home, on a street where, according to the town's stone mason,
"What's buried when it snows comes to light when it thaws."
It's a neighborhood where everybody hates, suspects, double-crosses
and torments each other. The fire has started gossip; gossip has
widened into accusation and all that it rotten has come to light.
Into this picture steps The Stranger, an alter-ego for Strindberg
himself, who will sort it all out. There is a strong theme of
coming home, with the message that you can run away from your
problems, but eventually you will have to face your demons.
"Burnt House" is in the same vein as
Strindberg's sprawling memory plays, "To Damascus" and
"The Great Highway," and to a lesser degree "Dreamplay"
and "The Ghost Sonata," mostly in its tone. It exemplifies
Strindberg's recurring theme of stripping away facades to reveal
dark secrets that were hidden from view.
The Chamber Plays ("The Storm," "Burnt
House," "The Ghost Sonata", "The Pelican"
and "The Black Glove") are Strindberg's final writings.
After their debuts in Strindberg's Intimate Theater in Stockholm
in 1907-8, the playwright fell into declining health and died
in 1911. These plays were written as a set with musical concepts.
"The Storm" has very specific music cues. "The
Ghost Sonata" is an actual sonata. The plays even have Opus
numbers: "The Storm" is Op. 1 and "Burnt House"
is Op. 2, although their premieres did not take place in that
August Strindberg Rep presented in rep the two
plays of that series in which a house of several apartments is
integral to the dramatic situation. In "The Storm,"
the house is home to a prominent old government minister, who
had lived happily there with a wife he had abandoned. She moves
back to it, to the apartment above him, with their daughter and
a new husband. In "Burnt House," revelations about the
characters manifest even physically in the Dyer's house, which
before the fire had appeared to be the home of an honorable merchant.
After the fire, it turns out to have double walls for smuggling
Through the years, Sweden's greatest directors
have staged both plays. "Burnt House" has had two major
historic revivals which took it different directions. In the 1930s
in Gothenberg, it was treated it as a comedy. In the 1950s at
the Royal Theater in Stockholm, it was played as a period piece
with local color. Its prototypical characters are the kind that
Swedes would have remembered from their childhood.
with the minimalist style productions at Strindberg's Intimate
Theatre (which were radical in their time), both "Burnt House"
and "The Storm" were produced on an essentially bare
stage. "Burnt House" had hanging scenery evoking the
orchard visible now that the house that had obscured its view
has burnt down. In "The Storm," the façade of
The Cabinet Minister's house served as the fourth wall.
Donaldson and Madeleine Saidenberg.
Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
House has its own haunting music and message [which is to] confront
one’s demons or run the risk of becoming a 'moth to a flame.'
No weak links in this cast. . . all hold the stage and inhabit
their characters with realism....August Strindberg Repertory Theatre
is one of the best-kept secrets in New York...So keep your ear
tuned to this company. They are making some mighty fine music
with the Scandinavian master’s late-career works."
-- Diedre Donovan, Theaterscene.com