Presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association with Theater Resources Unlimited.

Foreground: Ivette Dumeng and Sergio Castillo. Photo by Rosalie Baijer.

In 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.

The Kristina 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 personal protection.

Bright and 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" (1888).

This production 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 Cohen.


Ivette Dumeng as Kristins.
Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

"Whitney 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 Scene

"As 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 is Easy

"Ivette 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 play." -- Jean Sidden, Front Row Center