Monday night, Jon Fosse’s play felt like a blast of early Pinter with some hoary frost of Edward Munch thrown in for good measure. You know: a threesome locked for eternity in jealous triangulation, an alienated figure on a bridge captured in a silent scream, and even perhaps the hint of a lascivious vampire-woman hovering, her tresses threatening to envelop and strangle her partner. I was reminded of how important it is for Washington to receive the bracing force of northern European writers, blowing in to enrich our theatrical landscape. (The demand for greater multiculturalism recently has tended to favor voices drifting in from more equatorial climes.)
The Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse needs to be better known in our area. His plays have received over 900 productions and have been translated into over 40 languages. Like British playwright from the last century Arnold Wesker, Fosse’s plays get greater traction, it seems, in continental Europe. Perhaps that’s because the United States and to a great extent England have formed theatrical tastes that tend to couch-potato comfortably in TV-land. Fosse doesn’t go there. His plays eschew that kind of naturalism and are more like poems or avant garde musical compositions punctuated by generous chasms of silence. We need to reveal and revel in this distinct voice.
Robert McNamara is the man to do it.
Before Studio Theatre hosted a radical German theatre festival a few years ago; before smaller companies joined with individual embassies to present theatrical works; before theatreWashington convened seventy companies to explore opportunities for cultural cross-fertilization and partnerships, Artistic Director McNamara with his Scena Theatre had been bringing new plays and artists across the pond from western and eastern Europe and given them a presence in D.C. Thirty years ago. And he is is still doing it.
Thanks to a close association with the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Scena presents Someone is Going to Come at Atlas Performing Arts Center for nearly a month’s run. In the small Lab Theatre, the audience is thrust up against the action.
A man and a woman enter the space. They rhapsodize about being “alone together in the house,” a house they have just bought overlooking the sea. They riff on the one phrase, repeating it, finding new meanings in it, until it sounds absurd. Nervous laughter from the audience. “He” and “she” continue exploring their relationship, reworking the phrase, and the meanings shift. They hammer at it to fill the silence, and the loneliness of the idea settles into their bones. Rhapsody shifts to horror. They are trapped together, alone.
The characters remain nameless, and the piece with its modulations and repetitions takes on a kind of circular hypnotic feel. It becomes a spare, universal poem. Unlike most theatre, where you sit feeling and enjoying the presence of others sitting around you, I felt that the play was a solo experience. I found myself bringing more and more of myself into it to fill the spaces. Our need for meaning, for context, for story.
The piece felt like a psychological portrait of a love relationship, one where the two people have known each other a long time and where roles shift as subtle needs of one are telepathically telegraphed to the other. The desire to be alone with one’s lover and off the radar with the chance for intimate abandonment is suddenly replaced by the feeling of claustrophobia, even terror.
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Someone is Going to Come
closes February 5, 2017
Details and tickets
“He” is David Bryan Jackson with wispy white hair and a dark overcoat; he looks like he just exited from a Beckett play only to discover he’s walked onto another stage. A dreamlike disassociation and ravaged European seediness informs his character throughout. He’s bought a house, but he’s not sure why. His wife seems to be having a hard time, possibly falling to pieces (again.) He speaks to her to calm her, as if she were a child afraid of the dark. He holds onto her and repeats phrases so she doesn’t get lost. But later he hurls invective at her, roused by her planting the seed of fear in him. He makes it all about betrayal, and his jealous ire goes berserk. Such emotional outbursts exhaust him, and he is soon curled in a fetal position on the couch in a house he never wanted. Suddenly, he is the child needing comfort.
“She” is Nanna Ingvarsson with a face so expressive that she shifts one moment to the next between girlish rapture to sagging, scowling middle-aged disappointment in her partner and life. She captures her character most strongly in the woman’s awkward, self-conscious posing. One moment she freezes in fear of some nameless horror that may or may not be there and she hunches over, listening. Next, she stands at the window feet planted strongly and her hips and chin thrust slightly forward in defiance, masking both intrigue and terror at the menacing stranger who has entered her house.
The menace, in the arrival of a stranger, is a Pinteresque “device” if there ever was one. He (Joseph Carlson) is the “someone” who comes “hooded”, in this production quite literally, making mostly monosyllabic utterings. The stranger inserts himself into their lives, whether to challenge their dream of living in an isolated Eden or obliterate the couple’s happiness isn’t for certain.
Curiously, with all this murkiness, the play lurches into comedy at times, albeit dark, and makes for some genuinely funny moments. It may be from the recognition of how familiar this universal, symbolic psychological portrait has been captured. If a couple doesn’t have a third person to complicate conjugal bliss, isn’t it often one or the other who will make one up, a jealous fantasy? Is it to keep things interesting or to keep things from getting too intimate?
The characterizations are spot on. The three actors navigate this complicated, repetitive text, without getting caught in the looping, and the acting is fine. The actors clearly trusted that director McNamara would guide them through the maze, and indeed he does with authority for this smart, intellectual and compelling work of theatre.
Someone is Going to Come by Jon Fosse . Translated by Gregory Motton . Directed by Robert McNamara . Featuring Nanna Ingvarsson, David Bryan Jackson and Joseph Carlson . Set Designer: Michael C. Stepowany . Costume Designer: Alisa Mandel . Lighting Design by Marianne Meadows . Sound Design by Denise Rose . Assistant Director and Literary Manager by Anne Nottage . Dramaturg by Gabriele Jakobi . Stage Manager by Joey Aubry . Produced by Scena Theatre . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.