An elegant and open ended exploration of fractured family relationships, Ingmar Bergman’s final film translates well to the stage in this adaptation by Ulla Svanström Kaplow and Jeffrey Kaplow.
Derek Bond’s production draws detailed performances by well-blended ensemble. Translator Jeffery Kaplow turns on a sixpence between dignity and irascibility as the 88-year-old Johann, a wealthy and promiscuous former academic who now lives in semi-isolation in his summer house. He is visited by an ex-wife, Marianne (a precise, contained performance by Eileen Nicholas), after twenty years of separation, and for a time they develop a substantial platonic connection.
Marianne has always argued that Johann, despite his gruff exterior, is fundamentally a gentle and loving soul. This view is challenged, however, when she meets Karin, his teenage granddaughter from his first marriage, played here with an engaging mix of tension and intelligence by Augustina Seymour. Karin is a gifted cellist; since her mother Anna died of cancer two years ago, her life has become entirely dominated by her father and cello teacher Henrik (Philip Rham, in a courageous and moving portrait of a man rendered almost childlike with grief) and her grandfather Johann.
Neither Henrik nor Johann have begun to come to terms with Anna’s death, and their grief, far from uniting them, has inflamed their already combative and destructive relationship. Marianne watches as Johann and Henrik struggle for control of Karin; Henrik out of the terror that comes from bereavement and loneliness, Johann out of an almost obsessive hatred of his son.
This show holds attention consistently through 100 minutes without an interval – an impressive achievement. And for a Swedish play about bereavement and isolation, there are a surprising number of laughs. Sometimes the Bach cello suites that underscore the scene changes can make the pace drag a little, but this does add to the sense of oppressive slowness as the narrative grinds to its conclusion. James Perkins’ set is a beautiful and witty installation – though possibly a little cumbersome to play on – and Sally Furguson’s moody and elegant lighting aids both atmosphere and pace.