Written by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted and Directed by Mark Prascak
At the Adams House Swimming Pool
Through this weekend
IS PEER(LESS) Gynt a social satire? Is it an updated Norwegian folk tale? Is it a meditation on man's quest for self? Is it just an avant-garde joke? I don't know; it's hard to tell.
Director Mark Prascak has trimmed Ibsen's epic-length verse drama Peer Gynt to a more comfortable hour and forty minutes, reduced its cast to 10 actors playing a multiplicity of roles, changed its title character's name, modernized its dialogue, and staged it on the edge of a swimming pool. Does it work? I don't know; it's hard to tell.
The skeleton of the original is still recognizable in Prascak's version. The plot is basically the same: Peerless Gynt, a young dreamer-adventurer, spends his life in restless self-imposed exile from his one true love, the everpure Solveig. During his travels, a plethora of temptresses, trolls, lunatics, and other fanciful creatures test his wits, his consciousness, and his sense of identity.
Prascak has also kept much of Ibsen's poetic language intact. However, he inexplicably destroys the poetic effect by injecting banal modernisms into Ibsen's imagery. Prascak peppers the play with pronouncement's like Peerless' "I feel as strong as a Chicago Bear." Is Prascak making fun of Ibsen's lofty verse, or blindly sacrificing poetry for a cheap laugh? I don't know; it's hard to tell.
Similarly, the characters and settings are updated, presumably in an attempt to make Ibsen's satire more relevant to a Harvard audience. Trolls become yuppies. Slave trading becomes arms dealing. War in Greece becomes war in Nicaragua. And the ocean becomes--literally--the Adams House swimming pool. These are all easy targets for jokes, but Prascak has nothing novel or interesting to say about them.
The performances are, for the most part, cartoonish. T.J. Mitchell (Peerless Gynt) delivers all his lines with a self-conscious self-importance, while Jennifer Lack (Aase) shrieks all of hers at the top of her lungs. Listening to the two of them argue is like listening to Daffy Duck argue with Yosemite Sam.
THE FUNNIEST cartoon performance, though, is Jy Murphy's, as the insane pool cleaner. He says nothing, but walks up and down the edge of the pool, like a refugee from Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch. For some reason, this is screamingly funny. But is it funny because Prascak meant for his actors to be so one-dimensional, or because the actors are simply inept? I don't know; it's hard to tell.
Staging a play at the Adams House swimming pool is a clever idea, though the lighting there is so bad that it is difficult to see even the actors' facial expressions. The actors do get to jump in the pool occasionally and thrash about on innertubes and rubber rafts. Its mildly amusing, as is the production's Joan Crawford-sized obsession with coat hangers.
But does it all mean anything? Is it all just monumental silliness? Is Peer(less) Gynt even worth seeing? I don't know; it's hard to tell.