written in 1900
by the Swedish
playwright August Strindberg
. It concerns a long-married couple and the games they play with each other, the love and hate that such long confinement/love naturally brings. What follows is an account I saw of a performanc of the play.
Its 7:45. My father and I are in a theater, waiting to see a production of August Strindberg's "Dance of Death" , starring Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellan. We're dressed in our nicest clothes, and I'm anticipating a night of serious THEATER. It feels slightly like a duty to both myself and my former-actor father, coming with him like this (though i suggested it), but I'm sure I'll have a grand old time. It is 15 minutes until the show starts, but we can see the set.
It is a tower, gray. There is a writing desk and a bed, and there is a sense that it is preserved, dead. There are things everywhere, little details, bottles, letters, opulent couches. Windows are closed, and behind them there is the illusion of fog. Wind howls from hidden speakers.
Dad turns to me. I steel myself for some penetrating incite that rips away all my pseudo-intellectual pretensions (I hold my father in high esteem), or at the very least another anecdote about his days studying acting with Stella Adler or performing Chekhov until he went half-mad.
"It looks like Myst", says my father, a man who seems to hold most computer games in either bemused awe or confused contempt.
I'm about to deliver a biting remark, but I look again. The fog... the simple sound effects that would have sounded so good even coming out of our old speakers... the bottles that probably held some sort of clue, the letter that could easily be a portal to another Age, the sense of decay, of age, of a glory long past...
He was right. It did look like Myst
I should be writing about the play, I know. But I don't have the vocabulary to describe these things, and I'm not sure how much I can reveal. Let it be said that seeing Sir Ian play a character of seeming weakness-- a doddering old man-- seemed perfectly natural, even after the 12+ hours I've spent watching him play virtual demigods. Let it be said that he was perfectly in control of his character's mix of nobility and failure, and that the dialog was perfectly paced. There would be a remark that would hang in the air just a beat too long, so that whatever came next was either devastatingly funny ("You are the only woman I've ever had pity on. All the others deserved what they got" was one gem only i laughed at) or strangely tragic, or a mixture of both.
Even with the little i know of the theater I could see echoes of the eternal doomed conflict between long-married spouses in Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett (i saw a great student production of Endgame last year... i hope i wrote about it). The text of the play deserves study and quotation, and the performance was flawless. It started as a light comedy, turned into a very dark comedy, turned into some mix of comedy and drama, got slightly surreal, made me regret how I treated my family, and made we wonder if living in some prison-turned-home with a loved/hated wife is the fate of all misanthropes.