Off-Broadway Theater Review: NORWAY PLAYS: DRAMA BEYOND IBSEN (Theater for the New City)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 13, 2013

in Theater-New York


Many plays begin comically and end in tragedy. Rarely though does the trajectory go in the other direction, as it does with Fredrik Brattberg’s fascinating, multi-layered work The Returning, one half of a double bill, Norway Plays: Drama Beyond Ibsen.

Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Kristoffer Tonning & Andrew Langton in THE RETURNING, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

It begins with a mother (Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz) and a father (Andrew Langton) in a state of devastation over the disappearance of their teenage son some months earlier. They’ve written him off as dead; on their pastor’s advice, in order to get some closure, they’ve even held a funeral for him in absentia. Yet still they are pensive; the mother has no one to knit for and the father stares anxiously out the window, obsessing over the neighbor’s unattended dog and hoping against hope that the next passing car will turn into their driveway and will have their boy in it.

Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz & Andrew Langton in THE RETURNING, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

And then a miracle: Their son (Kristoffer Tonning) reappears dirty, hungry and cold, with no memory of what happened to him. The parents rejoice and soon life returns to normal. But after a time their son vanishes once again. The parents are, if not as devastated as they were the first time, still very distraught. They hold another funeral, friends and relatives come, though this time there’s not quite as much mourning. Life goes on. Then their son reappears. It’s not difficult to guess at the pattern being established here. What happens to the son is unimportant, this is magical realism; he just disappears and reappears. The point here is the parents – their reactions, their diminishing grief, what it says about them, about us. The play itself is terrific and surely deserves the Ibsen Award it received.

Andrew Langton & Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz in THE RETURNING, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

Henning Hegland’s staging however leaves something to be desired. No doubt limited resources had a lot to do with the production’s shortcomings, a fact that makes a critic reluctant to use the same standards for a show like this as he would for a well-funded production. And it’s encouraging to see that no-budget theater exists and that there are people out there willing to participate in it. That said, performances feel insufficiently rehearsed; on several occasions actors hesitate, as though trying to remember their lines, and although the players seem enthusiastic their portrayals are shallow and feel less than satisfying. There is a curious concept attempted with the set design but the inconsistency of execution makes the effort feel amateurish.

Chevy Kaeo Martinez  & Christina Toth in MORE, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

Maria Tryti Vennerød’s More, though not as strong or interesting a play as The Returning, gets a much more exciting staging by director Joan Kane. Ida (Christina Toth) and Benedickte (Skyler Volpe) are two girls having fun on a slide by a pond, taking turns playing at drowning each other, until Ida holds Benedickte’s head under water a little too long. Ida is arrested for murder and two cops, Kristian (Chevy Kaeo Martinez) and Rune (a convincing Erik Schjerven) try to extract a confession. Also in the mix are the media, represented by two dancing, menacing, Cabaret-style clowns, Linn and Tormod (the very entertaining Alexandra Cohen Spiegler and Ioan Ardelean, respectively).

Erik Schjerven & Christina Toth in MORE, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

Although the script feels a little drawn out with repetitions that do not enlighten, and at times a bit preachy with dialogue and thematic elements—the two media clowns—that are a little too on the nose, it does create an engaging, dreamlike (or nightmare-like) world that maintains cohesiveness. Ms. Kane, with the help of choreographer Shannon Stowe, directs the performance as much like a dance as a play, with entertaining results and a finale that is spectacular even without a budget.

Ioan Ardelean & Alexandra Cohen Spiegler in MORE, part of NORWAY PLAYS.

photos by Yann Bean

Norway Plays: Drama Beyond Ibsen
The Returning and More
Ego Actus and Scandinavian American Theater Company
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue at 10th Street
scheduled to end on December 1, 2013
for tickets, call (212) 254-1109 or visit

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