August Strindberg Rep Adjusts Dates for MR. BENGT'S WIFE; Will Now Run 9/13-29
August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (www.strindberg.org), which was formed in 2012 to illuminate Strindberg's plays for today's American audiences, will present the English language premiere of Strindberg's "Mr. Bengt's Wife" (1882), directed by Craig Baldwin (Associate Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater) September 13 to 29, 2013 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, where August Strindberg Rep is the resident company. "Mr. Bengt's Wife" has been characterized as Strindberg's answer to Ibsen's "The Doll's House." It utilizes realism, expressionism, melodrama and dreamscape to tell the story of the rebellious Margit, whose quest to become an independent New Woman catapults her from a convent to a castle, where her husband and two lovers vie for her attention.
A new translation by Laurence Carr and Malin Tybahl makes this undiscovered masterpiece accessible to modern American audiences. It has never before been translated into English and has been performed only five times previously: in Stockholm in1882, Cologne in1908, Vienna in 1914 (the Austrian Church demanded that it close after two performances), Berlin in 1920 and most recently, in Stockholm in 1971. The Strindbergian theme of marriage as an emotional battleground is strongly stated and there are absurdist elements foreshadowing such Strindbergian signature works as "The Dream Play."
The play was originally set during the Protestant Reformation in Sweden, when convents were closing and the church became Lutheran. Its lead character, a high-spirited orphan girl named Margit, is physically and emotionally abused in the convent that has taken her in. Rescued from the convent by a mounted nobleman named Mr. Bengt, she marries this hero expecting a life of fantasies. He idealizes her and disguises his financial perils not to trouble her. But the lie catches up to him; the marriage, like the convent before, begins to feel like a cage to Margit. After a short time together, Bengt is bankrupted by poor crops and the marriage falls apart. Margit applies to the King of Sweden for a divorce and receives one, legally, but is treated like a pariah for leaving her husband. She is visited repeatedly by two men: her confessor from the convent (who may symbolize her conscience) and an old childhood friend, now a bailiff, who comes to comfort and seduce her. The play's shocking resolution challenges the audience to wonder if the whole story was a dream. The play was a star vehicle for the author's wife, Siri Von Essen, when it debuted in Stockholm in 1882.
Director Craig Baldwin believes that in this play, Strindberg is grappling with the emergence of a modern woman. Margit breaks out of the confines of convent life and marriage, searching for an existence beyond the accepted roles for women of her time. Strindberg has been accused of misogyny in his portrayal of women. Baldwin points out that Strindberg's own personal relationships with women "were always love-hate" and "people focus on the hate". He adds, "But there is tremendous love for the women in his plays; Strindberg finds women fascinating and is trying to write his way into understanding them. This play centers on a woman who refuses to accept her disempowerment. She fights it every step of the way, which is a very modern, even feminist story."
The play was originally written with a medieval setting, perhaps to distance it from the audiences of the 1880s who might more readily accept it as mythic. The adaptation by Carr and Tybahl sets it back in the 1880s, which relieves the audience from knowing medieval Swedish history to understand the play. Its imagistic and absurdist elements stand up as well in the more modern setting. Director Craig Baldwin points out that the psychological realism of Strindberg's early works and the surrealism of his later works (e.g. "A Dream Play") are both evident in this mid-career play. "That kind of variety in one play is exciting to work on," Baldwin declares. In planning the imagery of the production, he has been influenced by German expressionism (especially silent films), Ingmar Bergman films and the theater of Robert Wilson.