Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman" is the third of the three plays to be offered by the newly formed American Repertory Theater during its Boston run. Although the A. R. T. was organized to bring to the American stage plays which otherwise might not reach the boards, one id tempted to ask, as with their production of "Henry VIII," why this particular play was chosen for revival. For aside from its value as a specimen of Ibsen's development as a playwright, "John Gabriel Borkman" is a sodden and scarcely believable play.
There is a certain plodding honesty about the first three scenes which is not obscured by the artificial recapitulation of the whole background of the characters in the opening minutes of the play, nor by the precipitate introduction of the battle over the soul of Borkman's son between his aunt and his mother. What rob these scenes of any real force are nor Ibsen's crudities, but the mistakes made by Eva LeGallienne in her several capacities of director, producer, translator and actress. First of all, she has chosen to reduce the play to a five-scene, non-stop performance, a choice which only serves to increase the tedium of the whole proceeding. By casting Mary Alice Moore, who was obviously made for something frothy by Philip Barry, in this morbid, introspective play, she has committed an error sufficient to throw the entire play out of focus. And in her role as the aunt, Miss LeGallienne demonstrates she still believes that elenching her hands and jutting out her jaw are sufficient substitutes for genuine acting. As for Margaret Webster and Victor Jory, they are no more or no less wooden than they always have been.
The only completely satisfactory performances are turned in by Erncst Truex as a broken-down old man whose dream of being a poet buoys him up in the face of financial ruin and contempt from his family, and by a charming little girl named Ann Jackson in the role of his daughter.
After the splendid sets he turned out for "Henry VIII," David Ffolkes proves to be a disappointment in "Borkman." His evocation of the interior of a Norwegian home in the late 1900's is unimaginative and in the last two scenes, where he is called upon for outdoor sets, he is barely competent.