Saturday, September 20, 2014

Scenes from a Marriage ***


A clever friend referred to Ivo van Hove as a “destination director.” When he directs a play, the main attraction for many people is to see what he has done with the material rather than to see the work itself. Although his relationship with New York Theatre Workshop goes back to 1996, I have thus far avoided seeing any of his productions. Perhaps I have an innate suspicion of directors who think they know better than playwrights or filmmakers. In any case, his adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s superb television series and theatrical film was on my NYTW subscription, so I attended today’s preview. Van Hove’s first directorial stroke was to assign the roles of Johan and Marianne to three different couples portraying them at different stages of their marriage — Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood at the 10-year mark, Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff a few years later, and Arliss Howard and Tina Benko at the moment they separate. Act One consists of three scenes roughly corresponding to the first three chapters of the filmed version. The gimmick is that the three scenes are performed simultaneously in three different areas of the theater. The audience moves from area to area in the order prescribed by the color of the wristband received upon arrival. I was in the pink group and saw the scenes in 3-1-2 time sequence. This was unfortunate because each scene had less impact than the preceding one. Howard and Benko are by far the strongest couple and, I thought, Roberts and Ruff are the least effective and have the weakest scene. Since the partitions are not soundproof, the audience hears snippets of dialogue and slamming doors from the other two scenes. No doubt this was a directorial choice. After a 30-minute intermission, the entire audience returns to the full theater, now configured in the round. Act Two follows the course of their post-separation relationship. Van Hove’s next distraction is that the opening scene of Act Two is played with all three couples on stage, sometimes speaking in unison, sometimes fugally, and sometimes changing partners in mid-sentence. Tripling the roles did not serve any purpose to me other than to demonstrate the director’s cleverness. The final two scenes are much more conventional and even touched by tenderness. The question I was left with at play’s end was “Why?” The film is regarded by many as a masterpiece and the acting by Erland Josephson and Liv Ulmann was incredible. Although much of the acting here is fine and the production is never boring, nothing approaches the film’s level, so I must again ask “Why mess with success?” The only answer I can think of is that the director wanted to. Running time: 3 hours, 30 minutes including 30-minute intermission.

4 comments:

Andy Humm said...

You had never been to an Ivo van Hove play and after three or four of them, I will never go to another one again--including this one.

Robert Sholiton said...

Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I probably won't either.

Marcia Hearst said...

I couldn't decide whether the directorial conceits were in service of the play or mere gimmicks for gimmickry's sake but decided to give Von Hove the benefit of the doubt. And I found that the simultaneous scenes where you could overhear parts of the other scenes might point up the nonlinear nature of life, where all we are is a composite of everything that's gone before. And the fact that the couples were not at all alike and indeed had not been directed to act or move alike was to indicate the universality of the scenes. They were not just happening to a given couple but could happen to us all.
That said I still have a nagging feeling that, if there is a best order to view these scenes, it should be up to the playwright and director to choose that for us. And it was awfully hard to hear individual actors in the large round arena after intermission.

Robert Sholiton said...

Thanks for your persuasive remarks.