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By Robert Delaney
Modern ideas begin to create tensions among friends and relatives in 1880s Norway in Henrik Ibsen's Rosmersholm, the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company's season opener at 1515 Broadway, downtown.
Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates brings this seldom performed work by the Norwegian master to life for contemporary audiences with the help of some excellent southeast Michigan talent.
At a time when a change in government has exacerbated political tensions in the Scandinavian country, a Lutheran pastor from the gentry, Johannes Rosmer (Jon Ager), is offered the editorship of a newspaper that has just been purchased by his brother-in-law, Professor Kroll (Keith Allan Kalinowski) and some of his conservative friends.
The offer forces Rosmer to reveal that he has, in fact, lost his faith and embraced the liberal and secularist ideas of the new administration.
And the recent suicide of his wife prompts Rosmer to reassess his feelings toward Rebecca West (Alysia Kolascz), who had been her companion and with whom Rosmer had sought to have a purely platonic relationship.
The situation is complicated by the visits of Rosmer's old teacher, the unconventional Ulrik Brendel (Dave Davies), and radical newspaper editor Peter Mortensgaard (Richard Payton).
If the resolution of the play's conflicts seems a bit extreme, it must be remembered that the 19th-century rejection of traditional religious and political ideas in some of the northern countries was accompanied by a fervent concern for ethical and moral rectitude rather than a more Nietzschean refusal to be bound by conventional morality as well.
This production benefits from really fine performances from Ager, Kolascz, Kalinowski and everyone else, including Dominique Lowell as Mrs. Helseth, Rosmer's housekeeper.
Katie Orwig's set works well, as do Barbie Amann Weisserman's costumes. It might well be one's only opportunity to ever see this play, and if so, is a truly worthy production. Shepherd-Bates has struck just the right note with all her decisions.
SHOW DETAILS: Rosmersholm continues through Oct. 9 at 1515 Broadway, at John R, in downtown Detroit, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus one 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, October 2. For reservations, call 313-408-7269 or access www.magentagiraffe.org.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Sept. 22, 2011
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