Akvavit Theatre at the side project. By Bjarni Jónsson. Dir. Chad Eric Bergman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 5mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
With their plastered-on grins and stingingly saccharine dispositions, morning-show anchors, as a general rule, are often teetering on the line between cheerful and terrifying. Mishap!, Akvavit Theatre’s bright and unsettling new production, makes itself at home right on that same blurry barrier, wedged somewhere between Savannah Guthrie and an axe murderer—and the effect is jolting.
The U.S. premiere of Icelandic playwright Bjarni Jónsson’s quirky work (translated by Hilmar Ramos) is bold and uncomfortable, as a troubled couple’s shadowy secrets are revealed set against a backdrop of overblown local news coverage and caffeine-fueled cooking tips. In the play’s quirky suspended reality, cheesy TV hosts Brynja (Breahan Eve Pautsch), Sven (Joe Giovannetti) and Rósa (Sarah Nelson) give the play-by-play as Jóhanna (Bergen Anderson) and her husband Halldór (Matthew Isler) unravel.
The stark contrast between the tragic truth Jóhanna and Halldór are drowning in and the camera-ready fluff the TV characters are spinning is rich with a dramatic tension that's firmly gripped by the cast. Without the actors fully committing to the absurdity of the production’s premise, the show would likely push toward bizarre. Instead, they make it crackling. Nelson’s performance is an eerily exact replica of an on-the-scene reporter, complete with furrowed brow and smoothly rehearsed diction. As Jóhanna, Anderson is striking in her tortured cloudiness alongside Pautsch and Giovannetti’s painful glow.
Akvavit aims to explore and promote Nordic drama in their shows, and here again they’ve honed a piece that delivers both a slightly foreign, quirky structure and a raw story that is unexpectedly relatable for American audiences. By juxtaposing the glaring light of our oversaturated public culture with the inner darkness of our private lives, Mishap! finds a wrenching middle ground that’s well worth treading.