Review: THE NORWEGIANS at Austin Playhouse is deadly fun!

A dark comedy about two women seeking vengeance and the really, really nice Norwegian hitmen they hire to whack their ex-boyfriends.

By: Sep. 27, 2023
Review: THE NORWEGIANS at Austin Playhouse is deadly fun!

The Norwegians at Austin Playhouse is an 80-minute dark comedy masterpiece set against the frigid backdrop of a Minnesota winter. Playwright C. Denby Swanson's brilliant decision to rework the play into a one-act during the Covid pandemic was a gift to theater enthusiasts, condensing all the wit, cleverness, and humor into a compact yet impactful performance.

The heart of the plot centers on Olive (Sarah Zeringue), a transplant from Texas who finds herself trapped in a web of unfortunate circumstances in the icy northern State. Olive's newfound friend, Betty (Sarah Flemming Walker), a customer at her favorite bar, adds a dash of eccentricity with her quirky anecdotes and peculiar revelations. Seeking revenge against her ex-boyfriend, Olive enlists the services of two Norwegian hitmen, Tor (Lowell Bartholomee) and Gus (Ben Wolfe). What unfolds is a rollercoaster of humor, absurdity, and unexpected friendships.

Swanson's script is a treasure trove of sharp one-liners that inject dark humor into the scenes, eliciting laughter even as the gravity of Olive's predicament sinks in – she's discussing murder with two men who could easily turn on her. Throughout the dialogue, the author skillfully interweaves references to Norwegian culture and its impact on Minnesota's history. The play astutely delves into the contrasts between Austinites and Minnesotans, with Swanson, an Austinite herself, playfully mocking the scorching Texan summers and eternal Minnesota winters (hinting at her possible firsthand experience living in both places). While some of the cultural jokes may be lost on those unfamiliar with these specific states, the humor centered around female bonding over heartbreak and disappointing relationships transcends geographical boundaries.

“I’ve heard that winter here is as bad as a Texas summer. Only, you know, the opposite. We just don’t help anybody though if it gets hot. Old people just die. Old people and children.” – Olive, The Norwegians.

Review: THE NORWEGIANS at Austin Playhouse is deadly fun!
The cast of The Norwegians at Austin Playhouse
PC: Austin Playhouse

The characters in The Norwegians are a delightful ensemble of oddballs, each brimming with quirks and charm. Sarah Zeringue's portrayal of Olive is outstanding, conveying the intricate emotions of her character, from anger and frustration to vulnerability and a hint of ruthlessness. She authentically embodies a Texas woman thrust into an outlandish situation, navigating the unthinkable with two menacing hitmen. Sarah Flemming Walker convincingly delivers the character of Becky, a disenchanted young woman characterized by her distinctive Kentucky accent and a surplus of attitude. Her monologues are packed with sarcasm, illuminating the age-old adage, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."The chemistry between Olive and Betty shines through, with witty banter about cultural disparities and their mutual disdain for men – especially Minnesotans with Norwegian descent.

“Here in Minnesota, you gotta find a lover before the first freeze or else it’s too late, you’re iced in for a very long time, all alone.” – Betty, The Norwegians.

Bartholomee and Wolfe, portraying the two "nice, really nice" gangsters – the Norwegian hitmen – deserve special acclaim for their exceptional acting. They manage to make their characters simultaneously menacing and oddly endearing, creating an air of unpredictability that keeps the audience spellbound. 

“83% of our clients want to take out their ex…. Breakups are very hard. Especially for Norwegians.” Gus, The Norwegians.

The staging and blocking of The Norwegians are cleverly orchestrated, seamlessly transitioning between scenes at the bar where Olive and Betty drown their sorrows in drinks and share stories of love and heartbreak, and the cabin where Olive negotiates the execution of her ex-boyfriend.

One of the play's most remarkable qualities is its ability to sustain palpable tension while eliciting genuine laughter. The lack of trust among the trio is evident, yet the hitmen's calm demeanor and gentle interactions with Olive paradoxically put both her and the audience at ease, crafting a unique and darkly comedic dynamic.

In The Norwegians, C. Denby Swanson has masterfully crafted a dark comedy that adeptly treads the fine line between humor and suspense. The talented actors at the Austin Playhouse do justice to this intricate and entertaining script, delivering a performance that leaves the audience with laughter laced with the thrill of danger. It's a play that brilliantly showcases the power of theater to captivate and entertain, even in the most unexpected and unconventional scenarios.

Running time: 80 minutes without intermission.

The Norwegians

Book: C. Denby Swanson

Director: Lara Toner Haddock

Austin Playhouse West Campus

405 W 22nd St.

September 22, 2023 through October 15, 2023

Thursday - Saturday 8 pm.

Sunday, Oct 1 & 8 at 5pm.

Sunday, Sep 24 & Oct 15 at 2pm.


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From This Author - Sabrina Wallace

Sabrina Wallace is a Drama Desk Winner and Tony Award Nominated Producer (The Prom), Writer, World Traveler, and Leader at a High Tech Giant. She is a strong supporter of Theatre a... Sabrina Wallace">(read more about this author)


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