Saturday, January 18, 2014

Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen, Newly translated and with an introduction by Eva Le Galleinne (1951)

I bought this Modern Library edition of Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen, Newly translated and with an introduction by Eva le Galleinne (1951) some time ago, so when my Debbie Downer book club (which only reads depressing/sad books) decided to give "A Doll's House" a try, I decided to go Ibsen crazy and read the whole thing. I had read three of these plays before, but it was time to revisit them, and I learned that I can never have too much bleak, straightforward, Norwegian in my life.

The translator of this collection, Eva Le Galleinne, is pretty interesting in her own right, and provides a crisp translation and solid introduction to Ibsen and these six plays.

Here's the run down:

A Doll's House (1879)
One of the most consistently performed plays since Ibsen wrote it almost 140 years go, this story of the awakening of a flighty housewife to her own humanity takes on the flavor of the time and place of its production so easily that it never stops seeming fresh. Nora is so annoying, and Torvald so dense, but the play wouldn't work any other way. I've read this one several times, but this time I found myself the most fascinated with Nora's friend Mrs. Linde and her decision to force Nora to tell Torvald the truth about her financial falsehoods. And that door slam!

Ghosts (1881)
In this play you can really see why Ibsen was so controversial in the late 19th century -- venereal disease, adultery, children out of wedlock, sexual assault, arson, religious doubts, and calling out the domestic subjugation of women: it's all here! This is a perfect example of Ibsen's close, domestic staging where the action of the play has either happened in the past or away from the stage, and what we see are the characters dealing with the consequences.

An Enemy of the People (1882)
When Dr. Stockman discovers that the mineral baths his town just spent tons of money constructing for sick tourists is being contaminated by run-off from the tannery upstream, he is sure that his more responsible and stuffy brother, who is the Mayor of the town, and the rest of the townspeople will be so glad he told them that they will throw him a parade. Instead he is torn between the liberal and conservative factions of the town, both of whom want to save the town's cash cow. The mob scenes are disturbing, but the lampooning of the liberal press and the small-town government are often hilarious.

Rosmersholm (1886)
I hadn't ever read this one before, and I found it the hardest to like. The story of the wealthy Mr. Rosmer, whose sickly wife recently took her own wife, and his relationship with Rebekka, his wife's former nurse and companion who is still living in the house, comes off as melodramatic and old fashioned, which is so much different than the crisp realism of his other plays. After some reflection, the story grew on me, and I'm definitely not one to turn down a suitably tragic ending, but I still found this the hardest play in the collection to really get some traction for me.

Hedda Gabler (1890)
Hedda Gabler! Hedda Gabler! When I read this play in high school, it completely blew my mind, and it amazes me no less now. Hedda is a bad person, but complicatedly so, and watching her manipulate, lie, and play with the people around her is like a fascinating train wreck. In case you haven't noticed, I love a perfect ending, and Hedda Gabler definitely has one of those. If you haven't ever read this play, go read it right now. In her introduction Le Galleinne mentions that actresses love Ibsen because he created roles like Hedda Gabler, and there is no denying that this is an amazing character.

The Master Builder (1892)
I hadn't ever read this story of a prominent architect and his complicated family and work relationships before, and it goes down as one of the strangest plays I've ever read. Master Builder Solness has a successful business designing homes, two long-ago dead children, a distant wife, and a series of mistresses and near-mistresses. When Miss Hilde Wangel enters the scene -- seeking out Solness ten years after he made an off-hand comment when she was a little girl that he would make her his princess in ten years time -- the slate is set for some familial tragedy as well as some unexpected humor. I'm still not sure what to make of this one, but I definitely liked it.

Ibsen! You should read this wild Norwegian inventor of theatrical realism if for no other reason than his truly amazing hair.

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