By Victoria Hofmo
I was filled with deep sadness, when I heard of the passing of Svein Arvid Skårdal of Vanse, Norway. He had touched so many lives that I heard the news within minutes, from four different sources from both sides of the Atlantic. He truly served as a bridge between the Norway and the Norwegian-American community.
It was hard to imagine that such a force was gone. He had been fighting against the cancer that invaded his body for a while. But, one would not know it. Just last year, he was setting up tables, organizing bands and tirelessly filling in wherever needed at the American Festival in Vanse, Norway, an event that he was instrumental in bringing to fruition.
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A Review and Brief Interview by Victoria Hofmo
Siri Hustvedt’s new book’s title is The Sorrow of An American. On the surface it refers to psychiatrist Erik Davidsen whose character serves as the “I” in this novel. However, Davidsen’s empathetic relationship to his sister Inga, recently widowed, as well as to his reoccurring memories of his mid-western Norwegian family’s trials and tribulations leads me to believe that this book could have been entitled The Sorrow of An American Family. Erik’s familial ties, as well as his internal conflicts and how he negotiates them is truly a story about all of us, the pain, the pleasure, the hopes filled and unfulfilled. What makes this book truly intriguing is Hustvedt’s deep delving into the human psyche through Erik.
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There could not be a more perfect place to set, Eugene O’Neill’s play “Anna Christie” than The Waterfront Museum (an historic barge in Red Hook, Brooklyn), as the play is about a Swedish barge captain Chris Christopherson and his daughter Anna Christie who meet on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Upon boarding this barge the audience is put right in the mood: warm wooden paneling, nets hanging overhead, and the soft jostling of the waves below. Sweet and bawdy sea shanties played with soft strings and melodious voices begin before the dialogue and serve to sooth between acts and scene changes. All together these elements offer a voyeuristic perch for the audience.
The acting is spot on. Tender and tough. seasoned actors draw in the audience in this every intimate space. I especially loved the quiet moments. The things said without words. The shy quirks of Christopherson played by John O‘Creagh, such as his quietly banging his feet, pigeon-toed against a column, like a shy child. Or the way he removes his cap, perhaps out of respect or shame. But he doesn’t stop there, he expands the emotion further, offering us something even better, his fingers working his cap express all. Or Marthy’s (Chris’s woman, played by Bairbre Dowling) face after discovering that she will have to leave Chris because his daughter is visiting, a daughter he has not seen for 25 years, revealing in a few moments the pain and loss she has and will have. Deftly she does not expose this until she is in private where she feels safe enough to let down her guard.
The direction is clever. I especially like how the two women in Chris’s life, Marthy and Anna are positioned as in a face off, able to eye up each other when they fist meet, not realizing the connection they have.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the two leads who play the lost youngins who are practically thrown at each other. Burke (Gene Gillette) who is spit up by the sea and Anna (Rahaleh Nassri) who happens to be on the barge that serves as his refuge. Burke plays a cocky Irishman, all swagger and sinew. He is dangerously irresistible and Anna is a much more well traveled dame then he can imagine. She is also self-reliant, a survivor and a little bit of a man hater. The situation is combustible and their attraction palpable.
This performance is brought to us by the Spleen Theatre, a new company in New York. This is only their second production and it is top notch. I congratulated Director, Laura Tesman on creating a new theater company in New York. We discussed how difficult it is between the cost and the competition. When I asked her how Spleen is different form other theater companies in New York, she said that this was only the company’s second performance. That she really liked the site specificity of the performance and that this is something that the company plans to focus on in the future.
I had the opportunity to speak with someone from the audience, who told me that she had seen the play on Broadway in the 190s. It starred Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson. She said that it was great, but that this was just as good. Not only did she love that it was on the barge. She also loved the acting. Now that is a ringing endorsement.
I suggest you get to the show a little early, so that you can get a front row seat. You will just have better site lines. And while you are there you will get an extra treat, as Odd Andersen painting exhibit, “Life on the Water,” is still on view.
Director, Tesman had thought about taking the paintings down during the performance, but she kept them up instead, saying they fit right in.
(See: www.norway.org/News_and_events/Culture/Visual-Arts/Life-on-the-Water---New-York-marine-exhibition )
Kudos to David Sharps, the barge’s real life captain, who has had to raise many dollars to maintain and, repair this barge and build its dock. It has been a twenty six year project in the making. Now when you leave the barge there is a lovely rock jetty with a smooth path that allows you to ogle the Statue of Liberty. To see that all of his hard work has crystallized into such beauty is wonderful. .
So, don’t miss this ship! There are only two performances left, Friday, September 21st & Sunday, September 23rd. Both at 7:30. Price $18. Contact www.spleentheatre.org