Writer: August Strindberg
Director & Translator: Robert Greer
Reviewer: Maggie McMuffin
It was surprising to learn that Isle of the Dead and The Pelican have not been performed as one piece of theatre. Seeing Robert Greer’s new production, the first staging to combine the two works, it seems impossible to separate them. True, Isle of the Dead bookends The Pelican, and the latter could stand on its own but there is something more meaningful in seeing a deceased man and his afterlife guide sitting down to watch family drama unfold, removed from the human connection to it.
That said, the meat of this production is The Pelican, which has a discernable plot rather than musings on the mundane horrors of life (a la Isle of the Dead). In it, the audience sees a recent widow, Elise, playing a truly terrible mother who stows away money while starving her two grown children. And she may have killed her husband. And she arranged her daughter’s engagement to a man she’s having an affair with. She’s not good is the point. Her son-in-law is hardly amazing either, but he is better and than Elise, and her children eventually catch on to her ways and set about taking their home back from her.
Greer’s translation keeps much of the dramatic flair typical of Strindbergian dialogue while keeping it from feeling like a melodrama. It plays as more of a daytime soap opera, with characters routinely pouring a stiff drink and monologuing about family secrets. It is juicy and carried splendidly by the cast, who navigate the heightened language with aplomb.
The same cannot be said for the technical aspects of the production. The set was beautiful but aspects of the haunting and the climax fell flat. They did not feel consciously sparse, rather feeling like victims of a low budget. It would have been preferable to forgo attempts at all and focus on the performances and text rather than undercutting the tension of the ending by having a red light wash in from stage left.
Still, a play that on paper sounds depressing was surprisingly funny and a refreshing way to pass ninety minutes. One hopes that this new translation gets to live on beyond New York and be seen by countless other audience members.
Runs until 22 February 2020 | Photo Credit: Jonathan Slaff