Last Act Theatre Company provides a captivating intro to the epic that is Peer Gynt
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., Oct. 31, 2014
Peer GyntHOPE Outdoor Gallery, 1012 Baylor
Through Nov. 2
Running Time: 3 hr., 5 min.
Peer Gynt seems to be a play that your typical theatre enthusiast knows either very much or very little about. I will unabashedly admit to being on the latter end of that spectrum. I came to Last Act Theatre Company's production at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery with my rudimentary knowledge of Henrik Ibsen but absolutely no idea what to expect. For those like me, here's a crash course: Peer Gynt is Ibsen's epic verse masterpiece, toeing the line between surrealism and naturalism. We witness many episodes in the title character's life, some familiar (a marriage, the death of a parent) and some considerably less so (encountering troll kingdoms, conversations with the metaphysical "Bøyg"). Last Act does a lovely job of immersing us in Peer's strange universe as we join him on a journey that may not have a destination after all.
Perhaps paradoxically, Ibsen's gorgeous verse practically begs to be staged, yet with the text in its entirety taking around five hours to perform, doing so is quite an ambitious undertaking. Though it might sound strange to complain about a production running only three hours, at times I might have preferred fewer cuts here, had the missing bits' inclusion helped better my understanding of the plot. Director Bridget Farias Gates states in the program that each cut made was a "wound to [her] heart." I believe that the audience suffers along with her, as these omissions sometimes give the play a bit of a rushed feel – an issue that might not exist had venue restrictions not imposed strict time constraints on the production.
Watching Andrew Bosworth's tireless Peer Gynt dart from scene to scene on his quest for meaning is not only delightful, but downright impressive. Bosworth does it all: From moments requiring intense energy to those of self-examination, from falling in love to staring death in the face, from drunken carousals to the inevitable hangover – he carries us along for the ride and never falters. Hell, he hardly even leaves the stage. With the main actor ably soliloquizing and pontificating at length, it would be easy, and perhaps expected, for the ensemble to fall flat by comparison. While Bosworth may stand out among his fellows – and how could he not? Allow me to reiterate that this guy is running a marathon here – his castmates skillfully avoid this pitfall. Whether working together in true ensemble fashion or as stand-alone characters encountered along Peer's way, this group helps fuel Bosworth's fire. Of particular note are Taylor Flanagan as Peer's endearing wife Solveig; Fritz Ketchum, who delivers a chilling portrayal of Peer's mother, Åse; and Susan Bennett, whose performance as Anitra, a thieving Bedouin temptress, is nothing short of hilarious.
The play's naturalistic language and locales certainly make an outdoor production a logical choice. The HOPE Gallery, however, may not be the perfect fit. External noise proves a bit distracting, and the graffiti backdrop makes an odd pairing for Ibsen's stylized verse, though perhaps it complemented the more surrealistic moments. Still, Gates' direction is quite smart, expertly utilizing the space to further engage the audience. Overall, Last Act's production serves as a captivating introduction to a piece that is deservedly beloved by many, myself now included.