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ISSUE 121 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/29/2008

Guthrie shows Ibsen's timeless 'Peer Gynt' production

By Jenson Power
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Guthrie Theatre is currently performing Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt," running through March 2.

This is not the first time the Guthrie has produced "Peer Gynt," but this performance offers something very new. Director Tim Carroll teamed up with actor Mark Rylance along with translator Robert Bly to perform the first-ever rhyming translation of the story.

Ibsen's original Norwegian is written as a poem: its song-like verses emphasize the naiveté of the character, Peer Gynt, as well as the zany plot. Anyone who is familiar with Ibsen knows that his plays often discuss issues of morality. However, he often approaches and resolves these issues in novel ways, especially for his time.

"Peer Gynt," while exhibiting many of the qualities of Ibsen's plays, is unique. If you expect "The Doll House," you will be disappointed. "Peer Gynt" has a fairy tale feel to it in that our hero comes into contact with some supernatural characters. However, it is because of this fairy tale element that audiences connect with Peer. His fantastical story becomes our own -- that is, like everyone, Peer longs to know himself.

When we first meet Peer he is a young boy. We learn right away that he is always telling imaginative stories and lies, and because of this, he is perceived, by the townspeople around him as crazy. We also discover that Peer has been raised without a father.

In the opening scene, Peer decides to attend a wedding in the hopes of finding a girl for himself. While there, he falls in love with the lovely, demure Solveig. However, right as Solveig swears herself to Peer forever, he abandons her, and the plot follows Peer as he travels across Europe and the Middle East in his quest to simply "be himself."

Along the way he meets a community of trolls, is lost in the desert of Arabia, is thrown into a Egyptian insane asylum, and sacrifices another's life so that he may survive a ship wreck. Finally, after years of wandering, Peer returns to Solveig.

The set was phenomenal. The stage was transformed into an old barn with high rafters. The floor was hinged, so that when Peer was in the desert, pieces of the floor buckled to resemble sand dunes. When Peer was lost at sea, the floor boards rose and fell to give viewers the allusion of waves.

Rylance gives an outstanding performance as Peer. He is a conceited, manipulative and deceitful character, yet we can't seem to take our eyes off of him. Before our eyes, the mischievous, lying, young boy grows into a pitiful, lustful, womanizing man who has no idea who he is.

Cast members were gathering together to celebrate their co-worker Peter Gynt's 50th birthday party. While at the party, Peter suffers a heart attack, and during the commotion, Ibsen's show begins. This framing creates a nice connection with the idea that "Peer Gynt" is the story of every man.

However, during the after-show discussion, audience members were skeptical about Bly's conclusion of the show. When Peer finally returns to Solveig, she is not angry with him, but rather she assures him that her life has held greater meaning because of Peer and his actions. When Peer asks Solveig, "Where has Peer Gynt been since we last met?" Solveig replies, "In my hope."

The play concludes with Peer burying his head in Solveig's skirt and she, in a very maternal gesture, sings him a lullaby. According to Bly, the play seems to conclude with the idea that it is okay for Peer to not know who he is, and to be dishonest, because he never had a father to teach him how to treat women.

If you are a fan of Ibsen, I would recommend seeing the show. However, be prepared for it to be confusing, and perhaps, disheartening.

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