Category Archives: Books

TANIA FISHER INTERVIEW BY LORI BEEDSLER ·

Interview with Tania Fisher, Author of Children’s Book, “Grandma’s Garden”

By Lori Beedsler

 

Briefly, what’s the book about?

To a grown up all that happens in this book is that a child takes a five minute walk in Grandma’s backyard, but you know, I wrote this for children not for grown-ups, and to the child taking that walk, they see it as a special secret adventure.  It’s theirs and they own it.  It’s private; dad has to stay behind inside and drink his tea and it’s just the child and grandma.  The child points out the same items; the broken pot, the bucket with the worms, and loves hearing Grandma tell them where they got it or how it came to be there and hearing her tell those stories over and over again.

Is this story taken from your own personal experiences?

Kind of.  Actually this story has been on my mind for over a decade, maybe longer.  It stemmed from my own relationship with my paternal grandmother.  She was about 60 when she immigrated from Italy to Australia and didn’t really speak any English.  She was about 80 by the time I was seven, so we didn’t do much together really, except that I remember sitting outside with her staring into the garden.  There was a language barrier, so we used to just sit there very quietly together.  It was kind of unusual but really awesome, it was almost like meditation.  I knew a few words in Italian; kind of enough to make small talk with her or ask if she wanted anything, but basically we stared at leaves and flowers together and sighed at the same time when a breeze lifted a leaf, or sometimes I realized that we were focused on the same flower stem that was bending.  It was really a peaceful and kind of a simple and clear way to connect.

What prompted you to write this experience in the form of a children’s book?

I sometimes babysit my neighbor’s children, one of whom is a very smart three year old.  One day her nanny asked that I take her outside so she could get her dose of “fresh air” for the day.  On that particular day I think the playground was closed or something, or maybe she didn’t really want to go out, but I suggested we “walk around the neighborhood and see what’s what.”  She agreed to this so we got outside her building and hand in hand walked the length of a block and back again. That is literally all we did.  This may have taken 15 minutes though, not just because kids at that age walk slow, but because we had such adventures along the way.  I would stop and point out the policeman, then comment on the little dog we passed, then maybe stop to see the children getting on the yellow school bus and talk about that.  A little further on we’d stop at a tree and check out the flowers at its base and talk about the colors and if they smell or not, then a little further on we saw a kitten dart across our path and hide under a parked car.  So on and so on; special red flowers, a tree with lights wrapped around it – but to this day, whenever she and I walk that same stretch of sidewalk, she comments to me about that little kitten and what we think it’s doing right now, and she points out where the red flowers used to be, and where the tree with the lights wrapped around it is, all the while asking me if I remember! It’s too cute!

But anyway, it occurred to me that this was that whole repetition thing that kids do – that gives them that sense of safety and security.  It’s also part of why they love having you read the same book over and over again, I’ve had that experience too.  Perhaps while reading I’ll make an effort to point out something in the illustration, and the next time we read that book together, the child makes sure to point out what I had pointed out previously, and then does it every single time we read that book!

The illustrations are wonderful.  How did you come to collaborate with Riley Hagan?

Like all things in life, little blessings are sent our way when we need them most!  I was discussing “what else I do” with a neighbor whose birds and plants I sometimes look after when she goes away and she had no idea that I was an actor and a writer and a theater reviewer and so on, and when I mentioned I was developing a children’s book, she told me that her step daughter Riley draws and then showed me some of her work that she had around the apartment.  So I contacted Riley and it just couldn’t have been a better match.

 

She’s an amazing woman, she really understood where I was coming from with this book and my motivation and message, and although I had some rough drawings of my own to show her what I was after, she came up with some absolute gems on her own that turned out to be my most favorite illustrations in the book – the hands in the worm bucket I especially love, and the details on the flowers are just amazing too.  Also Riley’s style is very sketch-artist, and I like the black and white strokes, but I insisted that when we got to the garden part of the story that there should be this burst of color.  Then it was Riley who came up with the absolutely ingenious idea of adding color on each illustration that had a nature/garden related item.  So the flowers for example that they bring for Grandma, you’ll see those are in color.  It was really smart of her, and it ties in with what we talked about earlier, about kids pointing things out in illustrations for themselves.  They totally do that when I read them this book.

I do also have to mention that the image of the child in this book is based on my very special friend, Benji Carvalho.  Riley wanted an image of a child to work from so I gave her photos of Benji and actually her first drawings looked so much like him that I had to ask her to manipulate them a little because I needed the child to appear non-gender specific.  I like all my books to have non-gender specific child characters so that any child can relate and not feel left out.  But when I read this book to Benji he could still tell it was him in the illustrations and that was a really nice moment for both of us.

“Grandma’s Garden” written by Tania Fisher, illustrated by Riley Hagan

Suitable for ages 3 to 6.

On sale now at Westsider Books 2246 Broadway New York NY 10024, and Shakespeare & Co bookstores, or online at: 

http://bit.ly/GrandmasGarden 

Interview by Lori Beedsler

LORI BEEDSLER, CHILDREN’S BOOK REVIEW: “GRANDMA’S GARDEN”–AUTHOR TANIA FISHER, ILLUSTRATOR RILEY HAGAN ·

Children’s Book:  “Grandma’s Garden” Author Tania Fisher, Illustrator Riley Hagan

Review by Lori Beedsler

A simple and inviting title, once you enter “Grandma’s Garden”, you will discover an absolute delight of treasures.   It’s a secret and special place that is only shared between a grandparent and their child, as they walk the broken stone path together and leave the parent inside drinking their tea. 

Author Tania Fisher is skillfully adept at entering a child’s mind and has an innate understanding of how a child receives and perceives a story.  She has carefully arranged her words to be from a child’s perspective.  The message is clear: this is a special private place that only Grandma and grandchild share, where Grandma tells the same stories and the same comments are made as Grandma points out all the same special items strewn about her “flora playground.”  Fisher has cleverly touched upon the crux of children’s behavior without banging us over the head with the message; children love repetition, and walking the same path with Grandma and saying the same things about the same items offers the child a sense of safety and security, and the fact that this special private excursion into the backyard is prompted with a special wink and a squeeze of the hand, all resonates strongly with young children who love that feeling of a special place and the same information that they adore hearing about.

Grandma’s Garden does hold a surprise or two and on this specific visit, with the discovery of a butterfly’s cocoon, which not only serves up a learning opportunity, but also prompts the set up for an additional adventure on their next outing together.

Illustrations by Riley Hagan provide just the right amount of detail without pandering to the tempting simplistic and smooth lines one might expect in a children’s book.  Hagan offers a lovely mix of black and white sketch-style drawings mixed in with vibrant bursts of color and specifics.  The clever design and use of color is smartly reserved and used only on “garden-related’ items which is a great touch that children will enjoy discovering for themselves and pointing out, and the wonderful burst of color upon entering the garden are completely delicious.

“Grandma’s Garden” is an unencumbered delight, planting the seeds of the special aspects of the importance and value of cross-generational relationships.

Suitable for ages 3 to 6.

Available in-store at Shakespeare & Co, 2020 Broadway (at W68th Street) and also available online here:

http://bit.ly/GrandmasGarden 

 

PETER BROOK INTERVIEWED ·

(Stuart Jeffries’s article appeared in the Spectator, 11/2.)

‘THE ONLY PLACE I CAN’T GET MY PLAYS ON IS BRITAIN’: PETER BROOK INTERVIEWED

Stuart Jeffries talks to the loquacious 94-year-old director about the parlous state of British theatre, Brexit and how he wishes more politicians were like Putin

‘Everyone of us knows we deserve to be punished,’ says the frail old man before me in a hotel café. ‘You and I for instance. What have we done this morning that is good? What have we done to resist the ruination of our planet? Nothing. It is terrifying!’

Peter Brook fixes me with blue eyes which, while diminished by macular degeneration that means he can make me out only dimly, shine fiercely. But for the genteel surroundings and quilted gilet, he could be Gloucester or Lear on the heath, wildly ardent with insight.

‘Think of Prospero. He’s a bad character, hell-bent on revenge for his brother’s wrong, a colonialist who dominates Caliban and the rest of the island. Only when he sees love growing between Miranda and Ferdinand does he learn humility and tolerance. He knows he deserves to be punished. And if we are honest — you and I, everybody — then we can say with Prospero “Me too”. But we are not that honest.’

I’d asked the 94-year-old theatre director to explain to me, as we sit knee to knee in South Kensington, the puzzling final words of Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest. Prospero, his books drowned, his charms o’erthrown, addresses the audience:

And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Brook seemed worth asking, since The Tempest howls through his life. It is 62 years since he directed John Gielgud as Prospero clad not in magician’s robes but half-naked, a hermit in hemp on a bare stage — Brook startling Stratford with his lifelong love of less. In 1990, at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, his Parisian base since the 1970s, the walls flayed raw by time and the stage scattered with a carpet of sand, he conjured up theatrical magic again, stripping theatre bare to get to the play’s essence. And in his book on Shakespeare The Quality of Mercy, he reflects on the soliloquy.

What is Prospero on about, I ask Brook? ‘Oh, don’t put me on the spot!’ he wails. ‘I can’t tell you the meaning, all I can do is invite you to share the sense of wonder beyond words that those words open up. That is what theatre does.’

(Read more)

 

PLAY FOR TODAY: REWRITING ‘PERICLES’ ·

(Adam Smyth’s article appeared in The London Times, 10/24.)

Ben Jonson’s comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and more squeamishly beheld’. The actors were hissed off stage, but Jonson, possessed of what the Renaissance scholar Joseph Loewenstein has called a ‘bibliographic ego’, was not a man to walk away. The printed text of 1631 includes sustained criticism of the audience (Jonson prefers ‘fastidious impertinents’) and a verse with the title ‘The just indignation the author took at the vulgar censure of his play by some malicious spectators begat this following Ode to Himself.’ Here he takes aim at a variety of theatrical taste favouring plays that resemble, in Jonson’s judgment, undesirable organic matter (mould, leftover food, discarded fish).

 

No doubt some mouldy tale,
Like Pericles, and stale
As the shrieve’s crusts, and nasty as his fish –
Scraps out of every dish
Thrown forth, and raked into the common tub,
May keep up the Play-club:
There, sweepings do as well
As the best-ordered meal.

 

By the time Jonson wrote these lines, Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre – or, as almost everyone now agrees, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, co-written by Shakespeare and the nastiest man in Jacobean theatre, George Wilkins (a pimp charged in 1611 with kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach) – had been a hit for more than twenty years. The play is a series of episodes as much as a unified drama, spread over 14 years, a tale of flight, family separation and reunion scattered across the waters and cities of what Richard Halpern called ‘the decaying Hellenistic world’. At its core is the romance arc of a prince, Pericles (whose motto, In hac spe vivo, means ‘In this hope I live’), losing and then finding his wife and daughter: a wife seemingly buried at sea, but washed ashore at Ephesus to a life as a priestess of Diana; a daughter (‘My gentle babe Marina, whom,/For she was born at sea, I have named so’) apparently murdered, but captured by pirates and sold into prostitution, who wins escape through her rhetoric and virtue. The play is dramatically uneven – the early scenes, usually attributed to Wilkins, dispense couplets of stale political wisdom (‘Kings are earth’s gods; in vice their law’s their will;/And, if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?’) – but the Act 5 recognition scene between Pericles, broken by his losses, and Marina is a gripping performance of a kind of staggered anagnorisis, with Pericles terrified at the prospect of joy as he begins to perceive the possibility of reunion: ‘Give me a gash, put me to present pain,/Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me/O’erbear the shores of my mortality/And drown me with their sweetness.’

 

(Read more)

IN PRAISE OF TOVE DITLEVSEN — THE GREATEST DANISH WRITER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF ·

(Boyd Tonkin’s article appeared in the Spectator, 9/26.)

The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen reviewed

Pick up a Penguin Classic from a cult Danish author who ‘struggled with alcohol and drug abuse’ and took her own life aged 58, and you may have one or two prior expectations. They will probably not include a flirtatious dinner with an enthralled Evelyn Waugh (‘so attentive and kind’) in a Copenhagen restaurant so quiet that ‘we could hear the thumping of ships’ motors far out on the water’. Tove Ditlevsen and the ‘vibrant, youthful’ Waugh have their evening spoiled when her third husband — a crazy, drug-pushing medic — turns up in his motorcycle leathers to drag Tove away for her bedtime injection, plus a bout of rougher than usual sex that leaves her spaced-out, ‘limp and blissful’.

The author of Vile Bodies himself might have composed this scene from the late 1940s, when Ditlevsen (born 1917) had already published several acclaimed volumes of poetry and fiction. Both fêted as a literary prodigy in Denmark and derided as a circus freak, the slum-girl superstar had become hopelessly addicted to pethidine and methadone. For all her celebrity, she felt for years that ‘no price was too high to be able to keep away intolerable real life.’

Wrenching sadness and pitch-dark comedy regularly partner her swift progress from a cramped Copenhagen tenement to literary fame. Ditlevsen published these three compact memoirs between 1967 and 1971. They capture the naivety, terror and rapture of her early life across a fast-changing palette of prose colors. The tones darken from her quizzical interrogation of adult follies in Childhood through the satirical larkiness of Youth to the junkie melo-drama of Dependency. Tiina Nunnally’s graceful, witty English versions of the first two volumes date from the mid 1980s; Michael Favala Goldman has now translated the more sombre and introspective third.

Little Tove feels herself ‘a foreigner in this world’, a gangly oddball accidentally dropped with her gruff socialist dad (a stoker, often unemployed), her inscrutable maidservant mother, ‘full of secret thoughts I would never know’, and cheerfully hapless brother Edvin. With her penniless family barely surviving the interwar decades on the fringe of the Copenhagen working class, Tove must hope for nothing better than marriage to a ‘stable skilled worker’ who doesn’t booze too much. Instead, she reads and writes, thinks and observes, gathering enamel-bright memories of childhood into a ‘library of the soul’ she will browse over a creative lifetime.

(Read more)

Photo: The Spectator

MICHAEL CHABON: ‘ULYSSES’ ON TRIAL ·

Morris Ernst (second from left) defending Gustave Flaubert’s November in court against charges of obscenity, New York City, 1935

(Chabon’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 9/26 issue)

 This essay will appear in somewhat different form in Fight of the Century, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, to be published by Simon and Schuster in 2020 to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union.

It was a setup: a stratagem worthy of wily Ulysses himself.

The conspirators were Bennett Cerf, publisher and cofounder of Random House, and Morris Ernst, general counsel of the ACLU. The target was United States anti-obscenity law. The bait was a single copy of an English-language novel, printed in Dijon by Frenchmen who could not understand a word of it, bound in bright blue boards, and sold mail-order by the celebrated Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company. When Cerf and Ernst first began to conspire in 1931, the novel, James Joyce’s Ulysses, was the most notorious book in the world.

“It is,” the editor of the London Sunday Express had written nine years earlier, sounding like H.P. Lovecraft describing Necronomicon:

the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature….All the secret sewers of vice are canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images and pornographic words. And its unclean lunacies are larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies directed against the Christian religion and against the name of Christ—blasphemies hitherto associated with the most degraded orgies of Satanism and the Black Mass.

Regarded as a masterpiece by contemporary writers such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, celebrated for being as difficult to read as to obtain, Ulysses had been shocking the sensibilities of critics, censors, and readers from the moment it began to see print between 1918 and 1920, when four chapters were abortively serialized in the pages of a New York quarterly called The Little Review. Even sophisticated readers often found themselves recoiling in Lovecraftian dread from contact with its pages. “I can’t get over the feeling,” wrote Katherine Mansfield, “of wet linoleum and unemptied pails and far worse horrors in the house of [Joyce’s] mind.” Encyclopedic in its use of detail and allusion, orchestral in its multiplicity of voices and rhetorical strategies, virtuosic in its technique, Ulysses was a thoroughly modernist production, exhibiting—sometimes within a single chapter or a single paragraph—the vandalistic glee of Futurism, the decentered subjectivity of Cubism, the absurdist blasphemies and pranks of Dadaism, and Surrealism’s penchant for finding the mythic in the ordinary and the primitive in the low dives and nighttowns of the City.

(Read more)

PHYLLIS WHEELER INTERVIEW ON “THE LONG SHADOW” ·

Author Phyllis Wheeler talks to Bob Shuman, at Marit Literary Agency and Stage Voices, about her YA novel The Long Shadow, a Huckleberry Finn story for the 21st century.

A white suburban, contemporary 14-year-old moves from racism to empathy as he travels through time. He is saved from hypothermia by a black man, and then, finding himself in 1923, works to prevent the lynching of the black man’s grandfather.

Praise for The Long Shadow

“A book that can make a difference . . . a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.  I like the friendship that blossomed in the story. . . .”–LaShaunda Hoffman, author of Building Online Relationships and also publisher of SORMAG, Shades of Romance Magazine, the award-winning online magazine for readers and writers of multi-cultural literature (sormag.blogspot.com)

“Full of interesting characters . . . [The Long Shadow has] heart, humor, and a great overall theme. . . . Complex subject matter, woven into enjoyable fantasy. . .”–John HendrixNew York Times bestselling illustrator and author of many children’s books, including Shooting at the Stars and John Brown: His Fight for Freedom 

Wheeler runs her own editorial firm in St. Louis and has written for daily newspapers, been a deacon, and worked on airplanes as an engineer. 

Phyllis Wheeler, phylliswheeler.com
Bob Shuman, BobJShuman@gmail.com

 

MARCEL PROUST’S IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME WITH DEREK JACOBI (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4—LINK BELOW) ·

Listen 

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s adaptation from the French of Marcel Proust’s allegorical reflection on time, memory, art and love.

It begins with the vivid memory of a young boy’s childhood summers spent in the French countryside of Combray and the long nights waiting for his mother to come and kiss him goodnight. The young Marcel takes beautiful walks with his parents and has his first sighting of the young Gilberte Swann, daughter of family friend and well-connected Parisian Dandy, Charles Swann and his wife, the courtesan and seductress Odette de Crecy.

Cast:
MARCEL (narrator) ………Derek Jacobi
FATHER ………Oliver Cotton 
FRANCOISE ………Susan Brown 
MOTHER ………Sylvestra le Touzel 
GRANDMOTHER ………Joanna David 
TANTE LEONIE .……Pamela Miles 
GILBERTE (girl) ………Mary Glen 
ODETTE …………..Bessie Carter 
SWANN ………… Paterson Joseph 
MADEMOISELLE VINTEUIL/PROSTITUTE …. Charlotte Blandford 
THE DUCHESS DE GUERMANTES (Oriane) …………… Fenella Woolgar 
MADAME DE VERDURIN ………Frances Barber 
PIANIST …………Daniel Whitlam 
DOCTOR COTTARD …………Lloyd Hutchinson 
MARCEL(boy) ………Isaac Watts 
MONSIEUR VERDURIN …………Jeff Rawle
FEMALE FRIEND……….Phoebe Marshall

Translated and adapted from the French by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Produced and directed by Celia de Wolff
Production Co-ordinator: Sarah Tombling
Recording and Sound Design: David Chilton and Lucinda Mason Brown
Executive Producer: Peter Hoare

A Pier production for BBC Radio 4

INGMAR BERGMAN, NOVELIST ·

(Daniel Mendelsohn’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 4/18.)

The Best Intentions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 298 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Sunday’s Children

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 153 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Private Confessions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 160 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Toward the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical film Fanny and Alexander, a beautiful young boy wanders into a beautiful room. The room is located in a rambling Uppsala apartment belonging to the boy’s widowed grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, once a famous actress and now the matriarch of a spirited and noisy theater family. As the camera follows the boy, Alexander, we note the elaborate fin-de-siècle decor, the draperies with their elaborate swags, the rich upholstery and carpets, the pictures crowding the walls, all imbued with the warm colors that, throughout the first part of the film, symbolize the Ekdahls’ warm (when not overheated) emotional lives. Later, after the death of Alexander’s kind-hearted father, Oscar, who is the lead actor of the family troupe, his widow rather inexplicably marries a stern bishop into whose bleak residence she and her children must move. At this point, the film’s visual palette will be leached of color and life; everything will be gray, black, coldly white.

But for now, vivacity and sensuality and even fantasy reign. On a mantelpiece, an elaborate gilt clock ticks, its golden cherubs preparing their mechanized dance. Nearby, a life-sized white marble statue of a nude woman catches the boy’s eye. When he blinks, she seems, Galatea-like, to come to life, one arm moving as if to beckon him to pleasures he has not yet even imagined; he blinks again, and the statue is just a statue once more. At that moment a violent rattling wakes him from his reverie: the maid is pouring coal into a stove.

(Read more)

NOW ABOUT THESE WOMEN: STRINDBERG, POST-BERGMAN—FARBER/ALI/ CLARK/ULLMANNS/MORE  (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Bob Shuman

The frantic sex in Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Miss Julie, directed by Shariffa Ali and retitled Mies Julie, now playing at Classic Stage Company (CSC) until March 10, provides a contrast to Liv Ullmann’s stately 2014 film version; but, in both, viewers are left staring at semen-stained underwear on the floor.  Other current Strindberg directors, like Victoria Clark and Arin Arbus, make Strindberg (1849-1912) conventional for our time—they can’t unleash him or really take him seriously, although Alf Sjöberg did so in his 1951 film on the daughter of a count who sleeps with a servant–a classic, which opens up the story, on the order of Birth of a Nation. Ullmann, who has directed A Streetcar Named Desire and can see Strindberg’s influence on Tennessee Williams, encloses her Miss Julie in an Irish castle, but her apparent lack of budget (this is really a filmed play) and two hour running time undermine Strindberg’s brevity and pace (Farber’s setting is a farmhouse in the Karoo of South Africa, and she relentlessly brings her inter-racial version in at 75 minutes; Strindberg timed the original at 90). 

Farber’s other changes include making the third character, Jean’s mother (Vinie Burrows, of the sheet-metal screech), instead of his intended, and giving the idea to start a hotel, to Julie, instead of Jean (James Udom).  Elise Kibler seems too young and unglamorous to be playing the title role, although a friend corrected me: “She’s not that young.”  She is a tomboy, though, who still seems imprinted from parochial school, and the audience is stunned by her voracious entry  into sex, not unlike when reading the reminiscences of Linn Ullmann in Unquiet (Norton, 2015, 2019), in which the author, daughter of  director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2017), himself no stranger to Strindberg (Americans may recall his production of Miss Julie, brought to BAM in 1991, starring Lena Olin  and Peter Stormare) pretends not to discuss the final part of the life of her father: as a teen, though, she describes wanting an older lover to keep “doing it” and when she comes, it surprises them both: “How sudden and violent it was, like shame, like betrayal.”

Ingmar Bergman in Stockholm, 1961

Udom kisses Kibler’s foot: “Kiss my foot; fucking do it!” (in The Dance of Death, also playing a CSC—the boot is kissed, the fetish Strindberg calls for in both scripts).  Udom continues up the lower leg, matching Julie’s boldness. Liv Ullmann, in her film, shows that Julie and Jean are really children, which is a point also repeated in Ingmar Bergman’s corpus; in fact, her Julie, Jessica Chastain, appears to be stunted in terms of her emotional growth, because of the early death of her mother:  Kibler and Udom, however, seem to be experimenting, “playing with fire” (they’ve known each other all their lives).  On the evening of the annual Freedom Day celebration, neither has ever been so fearless or unaware of the messiness of love.  Ali’s direction, at a kitchen table, with African drumming, music, and a ghost, however, may be one variation of Strindberg’s play that outdoes even the playwright, regarding misogyny: Farber’s reconstruction includes a death even more violent than that of the original. 

Although it does seem as though women artists trying to solve Strindberg, usually in their favor, are part of a current trend, the idea is actually not new.  The concept goes at least as far back as Trifles, the 1916 play, and curriculum staple,  by Susan Glaspell, which is an obvious riposte to Miss Julie, and also includes killing a canary; but here, the man in the relationship is killed, not the woman.  Arbus’s direction of The Father, in 2016, asked the audience to laugh at Strindberg, as she analyzed him in a multiracial context, rather than via the kind of homogeneous society he wrote in; nevertheless, Laurie Slade’s 2013 BBC production was compelling because it was brutal.  New York producers equate entertainment with comedy, but Strindberg, whose play The Dance of Death, about the death spiral of an aging couple—and which has influenced, in a hasty, incomplete tally, Bergman, Brook, O’Neill, Albee, and Ionesco–while not unfunny, poses an issue for casts, because without appropriate transitions (an actor has supplied the correct terminology), his sentiments can play like laff lines: “there are no real men today.” Actors may want the instant gratification of the audience response, but Strindberg is on to something deeper;  yet, this production’s vigorous actors, Cassie Beck, Richard Topol, and Christopher Innvar, using an adaptation by Connor McPherson, are only finding identifiable contemporary counterparts to Swedes of 1887; not essences.  Maybe a clearer way to say this is that they seem to be playing at their roles, but they haven’t become them yet. 

For a successful immersion into Strindberg-like characters, one might watch Bibi Andersson and Jan Malmsjo in Scenes from a Marriage, where Strindberg is quoted.  What the director, Victoria Clark, does bring to her production, which also plays until March 10 (this reviewer can recall an earlier production at CSC, in 1984) is an interest in movement, literally allowing the actors to present choreographed dances of death during the evening.

The mundane questions Linn Ullmann thinks to ask her father, Ingmar Bergman, during the end of his life, in Unquiet, A Novel, do nothing to illuminate an understanding of August Strindberg, by his foremost contemporary interpreter and literary inheritor.  Bergman only allowed Ullmann to see him for one month every summer–on a remote Swedish island, from which her mother successfully freed herself, in the sixties.  Unspoken depicts a daughter continuing to inhabit the isolated landscape, in an obsessively repetitive text, Joycean in some sentence lengths, and often banal in the points made, along with a bad copyedit (a lack of understanding of the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, is apparent, for example).  Nevertheless, her book (true in all of Linn Ullmann’s work) has been highly influenced by her father’s film techniques and writing, as well as her mother’s books, Changing and Choices.  Ullmann documents a man “vanishing,” as Bergman describes it, agreeing with Strindberg, in The Dance of Death, that “growing old is horrible,” passing his artistic legacy on to an observer, whom he might not even recognize.

Visit Classic Stage Company

View Unquiet on Amazon

Production photos: Joan Marcus

Linn Ullmann photo: Berliner Zeitung

Press: Blake Zidell/Adriana Leshko

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.