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June 7, 2011 6:09 pm

Through a Glass Darkly, New York Theatre Workshop

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Atlantic Theater Company presents a stage version of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning "Through a Glass Darkly," starring Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan. Photo by Ari Mintz. 5/12/2011.

Atlantic Theater Company presents a stage version of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning "Through a Glass Darkly," starring Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan. Photo by Ari Mintz. 5/12/2011.

 Carey Mulligan and Ben Rosenfield in ‘Through a Glass Darkly’

Back before the Larssonic boom drowned out everything else emanating from Stockholm, Swedish cultural noise meant Ingmar Bergman. The question of how to translate his Nordic moodiness to the stage rarely came up: Bergman’s pre-eminence as a director of theatre, as well as film, obviated the need.

But since Bergman’s death four years ago, stabs have been taken at translating his screenplays to the stage. The most recent is Jenny Worton’s adaptation of Bergman’s 1961 film, Through a Glass Darkly, which features four characters and whose title comes from 1 Corinthians.

A production of this 90-minute, interval-less piece was mounted last summer at London’s Almeida Theatre, directed by Michael Attenborough and starring Ruth Wilson. A new staging by David Leveaux has just opened at New York Theatre Workshop, though it is a production of the Atlantic Theater Company, whose main stage is under renovation.

The story takes place in 1960, during a summer holiday on an island off the coast of Sweden. The young Karin, who suffers from schizophrenia, has just been released from hospital. She and her 16-year-old brother, Max, a budding playwright, vie for the attentions of their novelist father, David – the elegant Chris Sarandon – who has promised to share the long holiday with them but announces he must soon depart. The pivotal figure in the story is Martin, Karin’s husband and a physician. Given evocative shadings by a terrific Jason Butler Harner, Martin is an outsider to the family madness. He must decide whether his wife’s talk of sensing God’s presence is evidence of another psychotic episode.

Carey Mulligan, Oscar-nominated last year for An Education, plays Karin. The script, filled with soap-operatic statement of emotion, does her few favours, yet her ability to spurt tears when required lends the drama a sense of immediacy, even as the theatre’s lack of close-up – the primary tool of Bergman’s supreme screen poetry – is severely felt.

The charming perversity of Karin’s sibling relationship with Max – the ardent Ben Rosenfield – lends this compelling evening its only comedy. Karin catches Max pleasuring himself to a girlie magazine; snatching the publication from him, she calls his favourite model “enthusiastic”. Any play that can wring a laugh out of Bergman is aces in my book. 

 

Atlantic Theater

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