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August Strindberg (#110 of 4)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

For all its acuity and innovation, The Act of Killing always risked emphasizing its groundbreaking method—crafting a psychological profile of two Indonesian mass murderers by making them reenact their crimes—at the expense of its most critical message: that the killers profiled in the doc were not only free men, but celebrated heroes in a country still run by people who, shortly after a 1965 military coup, helped murder somewhere between 500,000 and a million Indonesians accused of being communists. With the equally brilliant The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer risks no such misplaced focus.

A White-Hot Reworking: Mies Julie at St. Ann’s Warehouse

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A White-Hot Reworking: <em>Mies Julie</em> at St. Ann’s Warehouse
A White-Hot Reworking: <em>Mies Julie</em> at St. Ann’s Warehouse

It takes some nerve for a playwright to adapt a fellow playwright’s work, especially since most reworkings come a cropper. Recently, Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie transplanted August Strindberg’s one-act to post-war Britain. Its 2005 Broadway production, starring Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller, was a cold affair that fell flat with critics and audiences. Now writer-director Yael Farber has gone back to the same Swedish well and come up with Mies Julie, which in any language would be a white-hot success.

A beautiful young man and woman hurl themselves at a wall, a table, and each other with abandon and a vengeance. There’s an evocative live score and a light fog—a feast for the senses that sets the pulse racing. Concurrently, political points give food for thought. Farber colonizes Strindberg’s original, transforming the classic about class into an exposé of South Africa’s post-apartheid era. Julie is white and John is black. The basic dynamic remains. In the kitchen of a vast manor, Julie, the daughter of the estate’s owner, flirts with John, her father’s favorite valet. The power seesaws. John’s got the physical strength to dominate her. Julie’s got social standing on her side. It doesn’t end happily.

Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s Through a Glass Darkly

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Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>
Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>

If you’ve never seen the film Through a Glass Darkly, then there’s a fighting chance you might like Jenny Worton’s stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic masterpiece, the great director’s starting point in a trilogy of soul-wrenching 1960s films that tackle God’s relationship—or lack thereof—to humanity. But if you have set eyes and ears on Bergman’s carefully crafted images and words, then experiencing Worton’s ham-fisted take on the original is as emotionally satisfying as reading a Cliffs Notes version of Moby Dick.

Which is not to say that adapting Through a Glass Darkly for the stage was a bad idea; in bringing to the screen what was essentially a psychologically fraught chamber play, Bergman, who also wrote the film, always acknowledged a creative debt to the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg. Certainly, taking Bergman’s minimal characters and haunting island setting from celluloid to three dimensions was not a ready-made feat, but with some clever tweaking it could have been a worthwhile effort. Unfortunately, however, Worton and director David Leveaux fall far short of worthwhile, instead achieving an undesirable sort of artistic alchemy, where they turn movie gold into theatrical straw.

Creditors at the BAM Harvey Theater

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<em>Creditors</em> at the BAM Harvey Theater
<em>Creditors</em> at the BAM Harvey Theater

Actor Alan Rickman’s staging of playwright David Greig’s adaptation of Creditors is striking for the way that it both softens the edges of and preserves the problematic acidity of August Strindberg’s original piece. Creditors is probably one of Strindberg’s most complex one-acts, a stinging tragicomedy that is every bit as troubling in its philosophy as it is remarkable for the inventiveness and ferocity of its convictions. This is largely because Strindberg’s plays are notoriously never truly sympathetic toward their female protagonists and Creditors is in large part about an individual woman’s role in a failed marriage. Exciting and engaging as a drama, yes, but also deeply troubling.

A large part of what makes Strindberg’s plays from this period (roughly 1887 to 1889, the short but definitive years when he dabbled with “naturalism”) so problematic is that they are not simply concerned with the elusive human condition, but rather in relating and enforcing the moral code that governs it. Inspired by Zola’s writing, the “naturalistic” philosophy that Strindberg subscribed to when he wrote Creditors emphasizes a concept of human nature that’s almost entirely divorced of a theological imperative. As no one governs his protagonists’ actions, men and women (but let’s face it, mostly women) that do not uphold their responsibilities to another and are not mindful of how to hold their worst behavior in check are, to use the work’s prevailing metaphor, accountable for their transgressions. As such, Tekla, played by a striking Anna Chancellor, is essentially a self-serving vampire and is described as such by both her ailing husband Adolf (Tom Burke) and Gustav (Owen Teale), his friend, along with other choice epithets like “snake” and “cannibal.”