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BWW Review: JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN at the Stratford Festival is a Powerful Night at the Theatre

Director, Carey Perloff has assembled a stellar cast for the Stratford Festival's production of Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel BORKMAN at the Tom Patterson Theatre. The Festival has commissioned the World Premiere of the English translation by Paul Walsh. The combination of an extraordinary cast, and the unique setting of the stage in the round at the Tom Patterson, allow for a powerful night at the theatre.

John Gabriel BORKMAN is the story of a family that has been deeply affected (financially and emotionally) by the greed, apparent fraudulent actions and subsequent incarceration by family patriarch, and former bank manager, John Gabriel Borkman (played by Scott Wentworth). As the audience learns throughout the play, however, this family dynamic had its challenges prior to Mr. Borkman's fall from grace as well.

The play opens with two stoic women tentatively greeting each other. Each woman has a strong presence and you get the feeling that each is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Although the history between them is not yet known, it is evident to the audience that their relationship is complicated. In fact, the thick tension between these two women almost becomes a character unto itself. We later learn that they are sisters-Mrs. Gunhild Borkman (Lucy Peacock) and Miss Ella Rentheim (Seana McKenna). They once fought over the same man, and now they are fighting over Gunhild's son, Erhart (played by the always fantastic Antoine Yared). Both women feel that they were the biggest influence in Erhart's upbringing and both have a different plan for what and where his future should be. Erhart of course, also has a plan, however. It involves the enigmatic Mrs. Fanny Wilton, played by Sarah Afful. As this family drama is playing out, the previously reclusive John Gabriel Borkman re-inserts himself into the picture, which complicates everything further.

The performance that really stood out for me was that of Joseph Ziegler as Vilhelm Foldal, who appears to be Borkman's only remaining friend, and an incredibly loyal one at that, considering that Borkman's fraudulent dealings left Foldal with nothing. The character of Foldal initially seems almost naïve and foolish, but as the play progresses, it becomes clear that he in fact, has a wisdom that none of the other characters have. Ziegler's portrayal of his loyalty, selflessness, and love for his friends and family brought me to tears.

Many themes are explored in this moving production about family, responsibility, guilt (or lack thereof), consequences, the meaning of success, and whether or not a younger generation has the duty to carry out the dreams of older generations. Each character is fascinatingly flawed and each performance is breath taking. The play itself takes almost an otherworldly turn near the end, and not to critique Ibsen's work, but I personally felt the most invested when everything felt firmly rooted in the reality that the characters had created for themselves. It is in exploring those complex relationships that this play truly finds its magic.

John Gabriel BORKMAN continues in Repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 23.

Photo Credit: David Hou


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From This Author Lauren Gienow