Beyond Strindberg

A post from one of our summer interns, Elyse Endick. Elyse is a junior at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. She is majoring in English, with a focus on playwriting and screenwriting. She has joined Theater J for the summer to explore the inner-workings of a professional theater. 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hard at work reading plays from Scandinavia.  Our Artistic Director, Ari Roth, recently took a trip to Sweden, and came back with a bundle of plays for me to read. I admit that I had never really thought about Swedish playwrights before. [ed note: except when we watch these, of course: http://www.strindbergandhelium.com/%5D I mean, I knew they existed, as playwrights do everywhere. But, through reading these plays, I’ve discovered that our friends across the sea and to the north have their own distinct, fresh style. They have a flair for the abstract, the peculiar idiosyncrasies in everyday life.

Have you ever gone into an IKEA, crossed the blue and yellow threshold into the vast showroom covered in plush sofas, delicate chairs, cold metallic lamps, and wondered if the creator of this super-store ever had Nazi ties? Well, you’d be right! and Ingvar! A Musical Furniture Fable, explores just that. The show looks at the life and times of Ingvar Kampard, one of the richest men in the world, who took his youthful business savvy and turned it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. I was able to read an English translation of the script and view a DVD of the first act, performed in Sweden. I can’t speak Swedish, but I can already tell that the musical numbers are catchy! One need not hail from the Netherlands to understand this unique tale of human enterprise and innovation, of flaw and flawlessness. Though IKEA is one of the most fun stores to shop in around, what with their delicious lingonberry soda and savory meatballs, I never really thought about the soul of it. That’s right, the soul. If you stop and think about it, each store in a major chain like Wal-Mart or IKEA takes hundreds of people to run locally, thousands globally, and, behind all of the masses, one person who had an idea that was fit enough to employ them all.

Another play that I was eager to read was Baroness by Danish playwright Tornbjorn Krebs.  Long before Robert Redford and Meryl Streep took to the planes in Out of Afric, author Karen Blixen, known by her penname Isak Dinesen, was one of the most popular writers in Scandinavia. She lived a vibrant, wild life in the Danish countryside, living in a sprawling estate, painting and writing and mentoring young author and poets in her spare time, and her works–including Out of Africa were widely read. To young writer Thorkild Bjornvig, she was God. The two shared a strong friendship in the 1950s, and the play is full of her advice and musings. For a book nerd, this play was tops. This is a rare, intimate look at one of Scandinavia’s best-known authors.

These are just two of the twelve+ Scandinavian plays I’ve read in the last two weeks. Each one is fascinating, offering a new perspective on global society. Will they be produced at Theater J, or any American theater? We don’t know. But what I do know is that Scandinavian playwrights have their own style that I can’t wait to see displayed on an American stage.