The Brooklyn Academy of Music is following
up the triumphant success of the March production of Henrik Ibsen’s
"Hedda Gabler," with another Ibsen classic, "The
While the Sydney Theatre Company’s "Hedda" starred screen siren Cate Blanchett ("The Lord of the Rings" and "The Aviator"), the National Theatre of Norway’s production of "The Wild Duck," which is rarely seen in the U.S., promises to focus the audience’s attention squarely on their native son’s text and message.
Director Eirik Stubø [pronounced I-rik STU-buh] said the play is not just better known in Norway than on these shores, it’s a "national monument."
"It’s a masterpiece," he told GO Brooklyn in a phone interview from his Oslo home Monday. "[’The Wild Duck’] is definitely one of Ibsen’s three or four greatest. That’s quite obvious, but it’s not as popular worldwide as ’A Doll’s House,’ ’Peer Gynt’ and ’Hedda Gabler.’
"But in Norway, for some reason, it has become sort of the archetypical Ibsen experience," he explained. "We read it in school, and there are some classic TV, theater and film versions of it, so all Norwegians know this play very, very well. It is the most-loved Ibsen play for most Norwegians, which made it a very tempting task to try to confront the play in -hopefully - a new and fresh way, which I think we do."
In "The Wild Duck," written by Ibsen in 1884, Gregers Werle returns, after a long absence, to his wealthy father’s home and learns that the present circumstances of his childhood friend Hjalmar Ekdal have been created in no small part by the manipulations of his father, Håkon Werle.
Gregers visits Hjalmar at his attic apartment, where he lives with his wife Gina, daughter Hedwig and father Lieutenant Ekdal as well as a menagerie of pets, including the titular wild duck.
Determined to lift the wool from Hjalmar’s oblivious eyes and rid him of his "life lies" or "life-illusions" about his close-knit, loving family, idealistic Gregers sets off on his own manipulative course to expose the truth to Hjalmar - with disastrous consequences.
Stubø’s production of "The Wild Duck" was originally produced for the 2004 Ibsen Stage Festival in Oslo and will have its U.S. premiere at BAM.
Re-thinking a "national monument" presented many challenges to the director, but his solutions promise to make for a memorable evening of theater at BAM. Because "The Wild Duck" is so well known in Norway, even the way the characters are portrayed have become cliche, said Stubø, so he took a clever approach to his casting.
"I tried to throw away all of this character nonsense," he said. "I wanted to make Norwegians listen to the play in a new way. I want them to say to themselves, ’Aha, is this really Hjalmar? I thought he was fat and funny and lighthearted.’
"And Gregers [is conventionally cast as] dark, stern, thin and sort of Russian. So thus [my] idea: to cast it rather specifically with two brothers [Eindride Eidsvold as Gregers and Gard Eidsvold as Hjalmar]. I found that idea very appealing; they are quite similar in a way. Because Hjalmar and Gregers are looked upon often - and to a certain extent they are - two opposites. But I also found it a bit disturbing to have them presented as quite similar - visually, also. That was one of the central reasons I wanted to do this play, because I found this way in."
The director said that while he did not add any text to the play, he did alter the setting and trim passages that he felt were superfluous.
"It was important to me, as it always is in my directing, to find the ambivalence and complexity in these characters," said Stubø. "Within the lines of each character, I took out when I found Ibsen, in my opinion, was too eager to explain or expose a character. I wanted to give them some secrets, which he was, in my opinion, a little too eager to expose."
While the characters may have become more secretive, the setting of the Stubø’s production - the late ’50s, early ’60s - is more accessible for contemporary audiences.
"I removed the aspects of the text that placed it in the 1880s, because for me it makes no sense at all to give a portrait of the 1880s. Rather, it’s a great tragic-comic play about how difficult it is to live. It’s a play about the vulnerability of people. How difficult it is to live as a free individual that you need to create some form around your life that makes it bearable in some way So it’s really not a play about the 1880s at all.
"[My production is] not a very precise image of the late ’50s, early ’60s, but there are some components that tell you it’s not today, but it’s an age of more innocence than 2006," Stubø continued. "But really, the point of it was to liberate the play from a very Victorian setting and to meet these characters with all of the openness and curiosity that the play really deserves."
Because it was important for the director to preserve the play’s sense of danger, he still needed to harken back to an earlier time - if not the 19th century.
"Today, in a Western democracy, it’s not such a scandal or catastrophe on a personal level to be thrown out of a marriage, but for Gina it is, and that’s really the reason to place it in that era [of the mid-20th century]. [The setting] adds some color and helps us to understand the play," said Stubø.
Ibsen is widely admired for being a "master builder," famous for his abilities to construct dramas, but Stubø said that he found the "real genius" of the playwright was "the real, complex, personal, original universe" that he created in the attic apartment of "The Wild Duck."
And Stubø has had a lot of time to ruminate on the genius of Ibsen. The 41-year-old is also the artistic director of the National Theatre of Norway - where he has worked for six years - which is popularly known as "Henrik Ibsen’s own theatre."
"In more than one sense he has been a model figure for this theater ever since it opened in 1899 with his play, ’Enemy of the People,’ " explained Stubø. "As you can imagine, Ibsen is a very central figure in Norwegian theater, being one of the leading playwrights in the world."
The National Theatre of Norway’s production of "The Wild Duck" will be presented at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene) Oct. 25-28 at 7:30 pm and Oct. 29 at 3 pm. Tickets are $20, $30, $45 and $50. For more information, visit the Web site www.bam.org or call (718) 636-4100.