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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 16, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 07
The Seattle Rep debuts a world premiere with Ibsen in Chicago
Arts & Entertainment
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The Seattle Rep debuts a world premiere with Ibsen in Chicago

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

IBSEN IN CHICAGO
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through March 4


The Seattle Rep debuted a world premiere (their commission) on February 2 developed through their new play development process they call The Other Season. Ibsen in Chicago, by David Grimm, feels like an old-style play, set as it is in 1882, but it turns out to be based on a real story: Ibsen's world premiere of his (especially then) controversial play, Ghosts, was performed in 1882 in...Chicago! In Danish!

Ghosts, poking at hot topics like religion, venereal disease, incest and euthanasia, was very poorly received and thought terribly scandalous. If we believe the story told in this new play, Ibsen in Chicago, a Danish immigrant, finding himself working as a bricklayer, meets a world-class actress who he falls for and pours everything he owns into producing this new play for her. He is an Ibsen aficionado and fan and is devoted to bringing this brand new play into being.

Christopher McLinden graces our city again, having visited with King Charles III. He plays Henning, the bricklayer, with lofty idealism, and a grace and generosity that elevate the character and make this comedy a deeper experience, focused on the immigrant in America.

Kirsten Potter pulls out all of her comedic stops in various modes of play, since she has to display her great theatricality as Helga the famous actress, and perform some of the highest forms of theatricality of that day which we naturalists think are completely absurd. The program provides a helpful dramaturgical article by Pat J. King that describes the Delsarte technique, a physical manifestation of dramatic feelings that today looks like terrible acting. Beyond that, Potter gets to play the jealous harridan and finally reveal a twist that changes everything.

Henning and Helga hold open auditions and drag in Pekka (Allen Fitzpatrick), a suspicious meddler who finds himself drawn to participate, even as he might undermine the proceedings; his friend Per (R. Hamilton Wright) who sees the audition as a chance to try something completely new, like the new land they are part of; Elsa (Hannah Ruwe), the ingénue that has natural theatrical instinct and drives Helga batty; and Solveig (Annette Toutonghi) the landlady's relative - as a favor to the landlady - but who has a penchant for pulling out her teeth with pliers.

Each of them does a great job of providing arcs of transition from neophytes to devoted players as we also get nuggets of insight into their lives and immigrant stories. Even as that part of the story starts off feeling too stereotypical, the cast wins us over by the end. Toutonghi has the hardest and purest job to be the clown with the heart of spun gold and ends up as the whipped cream on this lovely cake.

Director Braden Abraham keeps the energy moving in a satisfying way. The play is done 'straight through' in almost two hours with no intermission, but it doesn't allow anyone to feel like they've been sitting too long.

An interesting set with a kind of alcove catwalk above a run down storefront by G.W. Mercier creates opportunities to have dual scenes going on and diverting visuals. L.B. Morse's lighting design is subtle and supportive, as usual, brightening the characters, but also providing a sense of the passage of time. Sharath Patel provides a solid sound design.

A play about theater is easy pleasing for those of us steeped in and in love with theater; this play no less so. Playwright David Grimm is able to weave in realities of some immigrant experiences and the struggle to fit in and find your place in a new world. And it's pretty funny! It feels old-fashioned, though, and there are a few glaring holes for Grimm to fix.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Discuss your opinions with SGNcritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters. More articles can be found at MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.

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