Sunday, March 8, 2015

Posterity **

I really had high hopes for Doug Wright’s new play at Atlantic Theater Company. I had enjoyed his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “I Am My Own Wife” and thought his book for “Grey Gardens” was well-crafted. The topic of the play — the interplay between recalcitrant subject Henrik Ibsen (the excellent Australian actor John Noble) and reluctant sculptor Gustav Vigeland (Hamish LInklater, fine in a role for which he was not an obvious choice) when Ibsen’s bust was sculpted — sounded promising.  I wish I could say my expectations were met. Things start well with a scene with the sculptor and his nude models, the middle-aged Mrs. Bergstrøm (Dale Soules) and his hunky young apprentice Anfinn (Mickey Theis). They are interrupted by the arrival of the prissy Sophus Larpent (Henry Stram), VIgeland’s solicitor and agent. He tries to induce Vigeland to to do a bust of Ibsen in order to win the backing of a key bureaucrat for the ambitious fountain celebrating humanity that he wants to create for a space in the heart of Oslo. When Ibsen arrives to meet Vigeland, things go badly. Their sparring match goes on for far too long and lacks nuance. Changing circumstances persuade Ibsen to agree to sitting for Vigeland and pouring out his heart to him. There are distracting subplots concerning the apprentice and the absence of usable clay. Very little light is shed on either Ibsen or Vigeland. There are very few peaks or valleys along the way, just lots of talk. We don’t even get to see the bust. Derek McLane’s effective set presents a rustic studio lined with busts covered in cheesecloth. Susan Hilferty’s costumes are apt. Wright also directed, which was probably a mistake. While I admired the playwright’s ambitions, I was quite disappointed with the results. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission.


Philip said...

A drama of ideas obviously has to have drama as well as ideas. We have to believe that the argument(s) will make a difference or force a change for at least one of the arguing characters. It seemed to me that in Posterity, the ideas and such drama as there was were tepid, predictable, and largely uninvolving. As I was watching, I wasn't asking myself what will happen next but rather how long is this going to go on? Vigeland says how desperate he is to have the commission to sculpt Ibsen's head—-a problem that has potential—-but nothing is really made of that situation beyond expressing it. I was more interested in the secondary characters—e.g., in Mrs. Bergstrøm's articulateness and diction, which belie her station, Anfinn's dereliction of responsibility regarding the clay Vigeland expects to use, Larpent's interest in and patience with his client Vigeland, and Bergstrøm's and Anfinn's relationship—but they are ultimately inconsequential. You sum up the problem: “There are very few peaks or valleys along the way, just lots of talk.” I will say, however, that it was refreshing to go to a play that didn't consist of two dozen scenes separated by blackouts. It was also nice to have an intermission.

Robert Sholiton said...

Thanks for your perceptive remarks.