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Mercein & Hege Bring GRÝLA Home To Iceland


Tulane's Jenny Mercein helms Christian Hege's verse adaptation of the medieval Icelandic folktale.

Mercein & Hege Bring GRÝLA Home To Iceland

A couple of years ago, New Yorker Christian Hege discovered Grýla completely by accident, searching online for something he can't even remember. Now he looks for audiences everywhere, and tells her story in dimly-lit spaces, to ruin Christmas a little for everyone. Why not.

(Really. He also has a story about Christmas cookies, but that's not the one he's bringing to the Reykjavik Fringe Festival, 5-11 July.)

Mr. Hege writes and performs long stories in verse -- and "Grýla - Not for Children" rhymes, for over 30 minutes. But that's only the starting point. After memorizing his 30-minute poem ("It took a few weeks," he says), he began working with New Orleans director Jenny Mercein to bring several characters to life: a little girl, a priest, a little boy and his mother, and the monster herself.

Yes, it's the Grýla you know. She is not a nice person.

Director Mercein describes Hege as part of a centuries-old tradition of storytellers and orators who can thoroughly captivate an audience by the simple act of telling a great story. "Grýla is a simple production, but with a writer-performer like Christian, you don't need a lot of bells and whistles. He spins an amazing tale with his words, his voice, and his commitment to the story."

(Ms. Mercein, who is Head of Performance at Tulane University, is also at the festival with her workshop "Viewpoints and Shakespeare" on 4 July at Dansverkstæðið.)

Mr. Hege spent two years creating the story, beginning in February 2019 with his first trip to Reykjavik. He sought out Professor Terry Gunnel at the University of Iceland, and visited Hallgrimskirkja and... the swimming pools? "People are very talkative in a hot tub," he says. "I wanted to learn what it was like to grow up under her shadow. I'm fascinated by the bottomless tragedy of it - we know a little, in the US, about losing children - and I'm always relieved when I tell the story, to remember at the end that this isn't real."

He was also relieved to discover how excellent everyone's English is, here in Reykjavik. "I wasn't ready to tackle Icelandic," he says.

"Grýla - Not for Children" (in English), which won the Act Alone and Best Online Production at the 2020 Virtual RVK Fringe, will play at Bar Ananas 5 & 7 July; and Aðalstræti 2, on 6, 8 & 10 July. For full schedule and details, see

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