Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peer Gynt **

Classic Stage Company’s new production directed and adapted by its incoming artistic director John Doyle is a case of too little Ibsen and too much Doyle. Up to a point, Doyle’s stripped-down version with just seven actors works, but there is so little specificity about location or identity of the characters that it all runs together into a blur. Perhaps Doyle thought this would give the play more universality, but I wasn’t buying it. Doyle’s signature tic of having the actors play instruments has become a cliche; fortunately, only two actors (Jane Pfitsch and George Abud) are so burdened in this production. Other directorial choices puzzled me — the character called The Undertaker (Adam Heller) speaks with a New York accent while The Mother (Becky Ann Baker) has a Southern accent. The usually fine Dylan Baker (The Doctor) and Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Solveig) do not have much opportunity to show their strengths. Not even the amazing performance by Gabriel Ebert as the title character is enough to hold things together. Doyle must have instructed him to downplay Peer Gynt’s age in the final scenes, which robs the play of some of its pathos. Nevertheless, Ebert is a wonder to behold. He is onstage for virtually the entire play and probably has 90% of the lines. This adaptation falls between two stools: it’s too long to sit comfortably through for two hours but too short to do justice to Ibsen. David L. Asenault’s scenic design features a raised rectangular platform with a step on each end. Ann Hould-Ward’s modern-dress costumes are stylish. The music for violin by Dan Moses Schreier is no threat to Grieg. I hope this production will not set the template for what we can expect during Doyle’s reign as artistic director. Running time: 2 hours, no intermission. NOTE: Avoid seats in the 200 section where you will often face the actors’ backs and in the front row of the two side sections which are benches with no arms or back.

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