Posterity: Theater review by David Cote
It would be tempting to say that Doug Wright, fashioning a play around Henrik Ibsen in his final years, has unavoidably penned an Ibsenian drama. Sure, the piece has qualities you find in the Norwegian titan’s middle and late periods: moral rot seeping out of bourgeois closets, the struggle between an old master and an impatient youth, and the spectacle of a great man in the shadow of death. But Posterity also contains something you don’t see much in Ibsen: affection and respect between male rivals. The play might be called Paternity, so consumed is it with fathers and sons.
Wright (I Am My Own Wife) directs his own work with a nice balance of pomp (David Van Tieghem’s booming fanfares, sepulchral lighting by David Lander) and earthy sass (a comic vibe that dominates the first half). The plot rolls on two tracks: In the first, budding sculptor Gustav Vigeland (Linklater, a rumpled bundle of insecurity and arrogance) is pressured into executing a bust of aged literary lion Ibsen (Noble, touchingly vain yet haunted), who will have none of it. The subplot turns on Vigeland’s apprentice (Mickey Theis) and a cleaning woman (marvelous Dale Soules) who model for the artist and find their own road to immortality. There are roughly three generations of artists in the piece, and death stalks two of them.
Wright lets his characters pontificate and bloviate—particularly Ibsen when he finds himself cornered by the alternately fawning and irritated Vigeland—and there’s exhaustive talk of heritage, legacy and art. From a lesser writer this might come off as leaden writing from Theater of the Historical Footnote, but Wright makes ideas dance and grounds them in rich, feeling characters. Like a good sculptor, he makes dense material breathe true.—David Cote
Atlantic Theater Company (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Doug Wright. With John Noble, Hamish Linklater. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
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