"The Storm" by August Strindberg
Adapted and directed by Robert Greer
October 3 to 30, 2015 - Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street
Presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association with Theater Resources Unlimited.
Presented in rotating repertory with "Burnt House" by August Strindberg,
translated by Robert Greer and adapted and directed by Whitney Gail Aronson.

Curtis James Nielson (L) as The Consul; Laurence Cantor (R) as Cabinet Minister. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre presented Strindberg's "The Storm," adapted and directed by Robert Greer, October 3 to 30, 2015 as part of an exploration of the author's final works. The piece deals with the marriage foibles of an elderly government minister. Strindberg named it Opus 1 of his "Chamber Plays" and wrote it for his Intimate Theater in Stockholm, where it was produced in 1907-8. It was performed by Strindberg Rep in rotating repertory with "Burnt House," Opus 2 of the Chamber Plays.

"The Storm" is a remarkable picture of old age, depicting an elderly government minister who lives in an apartment in a house where he had once been happy with his divorced wife. Having left her because he was too old for her and having lost access to his daughter in a painful divorce, he is about to be lured into marriage again by a distant cousin who is living as his housekeeper. The position of Housekeeper in Victorian Sweden, an institution in wealthy society, was one of great upward mobility because it afforded women exposure to important people. On a simple level, the play offers the theme "there's no fool like an old fool." On a more complex level, it is probably the best of Strindberg's marriage plays (and prose), his "last word" on the matter (he never wrote about marriage again) and the most directly autobiographical piece in his canon. The play was probably written for revenge against his third wife, the actress Harriet Bosse, to whom he was married from 1901 to 1904 and had one daughter, named Anne-Marie. Strindberg was smeared and dishonored in their divorce.

Curtis James Nielsen as The Consul, Alyssa Simon as Genvieve. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Harriet is represented in the play as Genvieve, the Minister's divorced wife, who surprises him by unknowingly renting an upper floor of his house together with her new husband, an abusive actor-turned-con man, and a daughter who has been taught not to know who her real father is. The character of Louise, the Minister's third cousin and housekeeper, is an image of Fanny Falkner, a young painter-actress who came into Strindberg's Intimate Theater company in 1907 to do small parts and became an able and valuable actress. (Strindberg wrote roles for her that he would have written for his previous wives, Siri von Essen and Harriet Bosse.) Initially, Strindberg considered her for the role of Eleonora in his play "Easter." She did not get the part, but the contact between Falkner and Strindberg resulted in his renting part of her parents' apartment on Drottninggatan, Blå tornet. Later when rumors spread that Strindberg would propose to Ms. Falkner, she returned to Copenhagen and resumed her painting career. Historians take this as evidence that the pair actually had a love affair and theorize that while Strindberg did not marry her, their relationship inspired him to imagine a dramatic situation in which he did--or was about to--and this was the basis for this play.

The Chamber Plays ("The Storm," "Burnt House," "The Ghost Sonata", "The Pelican" and "The Black Glove") are among Strindberg's last plays. After their debuts in Strindberg's Intimate Theater in Stockholm in 1907-8, he fell into declining health and died in 1911. The 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 order. Through the years, Sweden's greatest directors have staged both plays and Sweden's leading actors, including Erland Josephson, have acted the part of The Minister.

In keeping 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 that would be visible once the house that had obscured its view had burnt down. In "The Storm," the façade of The Cabinet Minister's house served as the fourth wall.

"The Storm" was acted by Laurence Cantor as The Minister, Curtis James Nielson as his diplomat brother and lawyer, Alyssa Simon as Genvieve, his ex-wife and Mary Baynard as Louise, his housekeeper. Set design was by You-Shin Chen. Lighting design was by Benjamin Ehrenreich. Costume design was by Jessa-Raye Court.

Mary Baynard as Louise. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

"The Storm - a window into Strindberg’s hear and soul in his last years. . . certainly explores the venerable institution and offers some penetrating insights on its peculiarities and charm....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