Emory Report

February 2, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 19

Theater Emory stages Ibsen
play, readings later this month

Theater Emory will embark on a two-year investigation of the works of Henrik Ibsen beginning with a production of his landmark drama Pillars of Society, Feb. 14-21, and staged readings of two other Ibsen plays. Atlanta theater stalwarts Linda Stephens, Brenda Bynum and Stuart Culpepper will take part in staged readings of John Gabriel Borkman and The Lady from the Sea.

In Pillars of Society, a 19th-century seaport teeters on the brink of the Industrial Revolution, facing issues still significant in contemporary society: isolation vs. expansion, political moral authority vs. true moral integrity, society vs. the individual.

"I was struck by the fact that this play is ultimately about young people seeking to restructure their society," said director Ariel Bennett, "and how they, like their parents' generation, will have to deal with the consequences of the choices they make."

Pillars of Society marked the beginning of a 12-play cycle of realistic prose dramas that concluded Ibsen's career and earned him the title "father of modern drama." The 15th of his dramas, Pillars was only the second to be written completely free of verse and in a contemporary setting. Completed in 1877, the play was an immediate commercial success. Ibsen sought to marry the ideas and psychological content of the text with theatrical form. He adapted the play construction of popular French playwright Eugene Scribe's "well-made play"­­complex plotting, build-up of suspense, climactic resolution scene, happy ending­­but instilled ironic subtlety with the use of more sophisticated psychological content. Ibsen's deepest conviction about the transforming power of truth and freedom was the subject of exploration in the prose play cycle.

The ensemble cast includes Jeff Portell as Karsten Bernick, Maia Knispel as his wife Betty, Brian Kimmel as Johan Tonnesen, Katy Shrout as Lona Hessel and Park Krausen as Dina Dorf. Set and costume design is by Leslie Taylor, and light and sound design is by Darrell Beasley.

Linda Stephens, who impressed audiences in the Alliance Theatre's The Glass Menagerie in 1996, recently moved back to Atlanta after a decade-long stint in Chicago and New York, where she received acclaim for her role in Damn Yankees and appeared on Broadway in Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Stephens will direct the reading of The Lady from the Sea and join Bynum and Culpepper in the John Gabriel Borkman reading.

The Lady From the Sea (1888) provides "a classic case history for modern psychotherapy" while bordering on the paranormal, said Ibsen scholar Rolf Fjelde, whose translations are being used by Theater Emory. The story centers on Ellida Wangel, the only child of a lighthouse keeper, whose obsession for a long-lost love drives her to the brink of insanity.

The central figure of John Gabriel Borkman (1896) is a once-powerful financier, fallen from the pinnacle of power through his megalomania, whose personal hero is Napoleon. His search for power overrides all other aspects of his life, even causing him to "trade" the woman he loves to enter a marriage of convenience for the sake of a bank presidency.

Performances of Pillars are: 7:30 p.m., Feb. 14; 8 p.m., Feb. 19-21; and 3 p.m., Feb. 21. The reading of John Gabriel Borkman will be at 5 p.m., Feb. 15; The Lady From the Sea at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 18. All events will take place in the "Black Rose," inside the Mary Gray Munroe Theater.

-Deb Hammacher

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