Akvavit Theatre. By Lucas Svensson. Translated by Chad Eric Bergman. Directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Megan Powell
For a play set during the filming of Ingmar Bergman’s most expensive and opulent film, Svensson’s dark, offbeat comedy is positively austere, clocking in at a mere 80 minutes. Fanny and Alexander (in its four-part TV version) stretched to over 300. Trim as it is, this U.S. premiere of De Frusna på Torget (1982), translated from Swedish by Akvavit’s Chad Eric Bergman, is replete with emotional riches.
I’ve seen neither the five-hour version nor the shorter theatrical release of Bergman’s 1982 film, which follows the Eckdahl family saga in early 20th-century Sweden. Does that matter? It doesn’t seem so, for this is a compelling story that follows ordinary people that is at equal turns droll and distressing. Clearly, visual elements of the film are integrated into Akvavit’s production, particularly a miniature theatre, which is replicated life-size in the proscenium arch built into the Den’s cozy theatre space. And within that framework—both the theatrical arch and the setting on the fringes of Bergman’s masterpiece—is seen the impact of the extraordinary film on ordinary lives.
“The Frozen” are extras that are being filmed in an outdoor scene for Fanny and Alexander in the frigid winter weather of Uppsala. It’s a big deal for the Swedish city; an effusive news reporter covers the scene, and the extras are hustled about the town square like a vacuous herd of cattle. The play homes in on four of them, a young couple and a mother and son, and how that one day’s chilly work exposes the emptiness of their own lives.
Susann has insisted that David, with whom she shares a flat and a crumbling relationship, join her as an extra on the set, for fun. But David is dour and distant after a trip to New York City. Bombastic slacker Sven is angling for the big time after the extra gig, while his mother, Nanny, who’s done it before, contends that they are meant to merely contribute to the whole, and that “an extra should not have a face.” There’s darker stuff underneath these contradictions, which plays out in layers of meaning and shifting chronology, directed with precision by Pautsch.
It’s all refreshingly opaque for what’s essentially a straightforward domestic drama, and the cast plays this kaleidoscopic, often meta-theatrical script with just the right balance of archness and sincerity. Some scenes toward the end feel a few beats off, but Bergen Anderson as Susann and Andrew Fortman as David, even with the play’s spare language, skillfully build their relationship to a slow boil. Dan Wilson’s self-centered Sven stirs this troubled pot and Paulette Hicks’s grounded turn as Nanny provides calm in the turmoil.
Placed as it is in 1982, tenser moments of the show are lightened with eruptions of Duran Duran and David Bowie. It’s the cast’s ability to play the prismatic, often meta-theatrical script with just the right balance of archness and sincerity that makes Akvavit’s production, brief though it is, intriguing, moving and entertaining all at once. We see both the crowd and the faces within it.