August Strindberg Rep Presents TO DAMASCUS, PART 1, Now thru 5/11
August Strindberg's "To Damascus, Part 1" will be adapted to Harlem, 1962 in the next production of August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (www.strindberg.org). The play will be presented with a multi-racial cast today, April 18 to May 11 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (East Village). It is the first part of a trilogy (called "The Road to Damascus" in earlier translations) that has been described as "Strindberg's most complex plays" and as "his greatest plays," due to their synthesis of a wide variety of myths, symbols and ideas with a profound spiritual analysis in a new dramatic form. August Strindberg Rep will present Part 2 in March, 2015 and Part 3 in 2016. It will be the first time the trilogy will have been presented complete in any language in 99 years.
"To Damascus" is Strindberg's most overtly autobiographical dramatic work and deals very directly with his attitude toward religion. It is a forerunner of theatrical expressionism and a true theatrical representation of a dream, foreshadowing styles to be seen later in Strindberg's "The Dream Play" (1902) and "The Ghost Sonata" (1907). The play traces the spiritual downfall and redemption of The Stranger, an author in mid-career. He has been living from hand-to-mouth, desperate for funds from his publisher, when he runs off with another man's wife. His conscience punishes him for this and other matters dating back to his childhood. Being penniless, The Stranger and his new mistress try to take refuge with her parents, who betray his trust, precipitating a nervous breakdown for him. He takes refuge in a monastery sanitarium where everyone resembles a person against whom he has sinned and they pronounce a curse on him. Subsequent scenes reverse the order of the first scenes, whisking him back to the beginning of his journey, with some semblance of peace being restored to his soul from the discoveries he had in the monastery. The entire play is presented from The Stranger's point of view. Rich in symbolism, it casts a unique spell on its audience who, like its protagonist, cannot tell reality from unreality while in its grasp.
Scholars agree that parts one and two of the trilogy were inspired by Strindberg's recovery in 1898 from a period of terror that was his life's most severe test of his sanity. The Lady, who leaves her husband for The Stranger in this play, is mostly based on the Austrian authoress Frida Uhl, who was Strindberg's second wife.
The setting of Harlem in 1962 was chosen for this adaptation of the play by director/translator Robert Greer and Nathan James, who holds the August Wilson playwright's fellowship this year and is a frequent actor in Strindberg Rep productions. It seemed appropriate to place this expressionist play into an era where, at least in Black neighborhoods, the pace of social change had accelerated nearly to the point of surrealism. Not only had the Civil rights era come to a boil during the early '60s, but the first inter-racial couples had begun to appear. A partner in one of these couples was the literary artist Amiri Baraka. His parallels to The Stranger, the hero of Strindberg's play, were poignant to James and Greer and influenced their vision for this character.
Other August Strindberg Rep productions have included Strindberg's autobiographical plays "Playing with Fire" and "Easter." It seemed fitting to cast many of the parts of "To Damascus, Part 1" with actors who have played corresponding parts in those plays. So DeSean Stokes (the Orphan in "Easter") will play The Stranger. The fair, red-haired Kersti Bryan (who played the title character in August Strindberg Rep's last production, "Mr. Bengt's Wife") will play The Lady, his mistress. Nathan James (the son in "Playing With Fire" and the guilt-ridden Ellis in "Easter") will play The Beggar and the madman Caesar. Victor Arnez, a newcomer to this company, will play The Doctor and The Confessor. Carol Carter (the Mother in "Easter") will play His Sister and The Abbess. Victoria Blankenship (the Abbess and the Chief Judge's Wife in "Mr. Bengt's Wife") will play the Lady's mother and newcomer Allen Kennedy will play The Lady's Grandfather.
Set design by Angelina Margolis will include a painted, full-width projection screen above the actors' heads with projection graphics by Donna Miskend. Lighting designer is Miriam Crowe. Costume designer is Kate DaRocha.
Tickets are $18 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-868-4444, or online at www.smarttix.com.
The "To Damascus" trilogy was written between 1889 and 1901. "To Damascus, Part 1" premiered at Dramaten, November 19th, 1900, with Strindberg's third wife, Harriet Bosse, as The Lady. It had its German premiere in Berlin on April 17, 1914, and toured to Vienna in May. Parts 2 and 3 had their world premieres in Munich on June 9 and 10, 1915. Part 1 had its first English-language production in London in 1937 and all three parts were performed at the Traverse in Edinburgh in April 1975 and again during the Edinburgh Festival that July (parts 2 and 3 were done together in one evening and apparently cut, as is often done in Sweden.) Part 1 had its New York premiere at Theatre East in 1961, again cut. The upcoming Strindberg Rep productions will be the Trilogy's first complete performance in English and the first uncut performance since Munich in 1915, ninety-nine years ago.
August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (www.strindberg.org), under the direction of Robert Greer, is committed to production of the author's best, and less often performed, plays in new translations and interpretations that illuminate the plays for today's American audience. The company made an auspicious debut in 2012 with Strindberg's autobiographical play "Playing With Fire," adapted by the late Leslie Lee. The play was re-set from a Swedish Victorian summer house to the black community of Oak Ridge, on Martha's Vineyard, in the 1920s. That production opened at The New School Theatre and expanded to an Off-Broadway production at the Gene Frankel Theatre, the company's present home. It received three Audelco nominations: Best Revival, Best Ensemble and Best Costume Design. Cast members from "Playing With Fire" returned to play their corresponding roles in an equally autobiographical play, "Easter," the next season. "Easter" was adapted from a Swedish coastal town in 1901 to Harlem in 1958. Both productions were directed by Robert Greer.
The company presented a double-bill of Strindberg's "Casper's Fat Tuesday" and "The Stronger" in October, 2012 (in a run that was overshadowed by Hurricane Sandy). "Mr. Bengt's Wife," Strindberg's answer to Ibsen's "The Doll's House," was presented in September 2013. August Strindberg Rep is the resident company at the Gene Frankel Theatre.
Robert Greer (director) has also directed English-language premières of numerous contemporary Scandinavian playwrights, including Sweden's Marianne Goldman, Helena Sigander, Cecilia Sidenbladh, Oravsky and Larsen, Hans Hederberg, Margareta Garpe and Kristina Lugn; Denmark's Stig Dalager and Norway's Edvard Rønning. He has also directed classics by Victoria Benedictsson, Laura Kieler, Anne Charlotte Leffler, Amalie Skram and August Strindberg. His productions have been presented at the Strindberg Museum and Strindberg Festival, Stockholm; Edinburgh and NY Fringe Festivals, Barnard College, Columbia University, Rutgers, UCLA; Miranda, Pulse and Theater Row Theaters, La MaMa E.T.C., Manhattan Theatre Source, Tribeca Lab, Synchronicity, TSI, BargeMusic; and The Duplex in LA. He has also directed plays by Mario Fratti, Sartre and Corneille here in New York. He is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Broadway League, Actors' Equity; the Strindberg Society, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study and Swedish Translators in North America.
Coinciding with the run of "To Damascus, Part 1," August Strindberg Rep will also present an AEA Showcase of "The Deadly Dance," Fred Crecca's adaptation of Strindberg's "Dance of Death," for three Wednesdays only: April 23 and 30 and May 7. The all-Equity cast includes Mary Keefe, Lou Vuolo and Dennis Davies. For more info, see www.strindberg.org.