Monday, June 13, 2011

Through a Glass Darkly

Ingmar Bergman was a student of August Strindberg. Jenny Worton’s adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s classic Through A Glass Darkly, presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, makes a great movie into what feels like a Strindberg play. The play is remarkably faithful to the movie, with all of the keynote scenes appearing like signposts: the return of the mediocre novelist (Chris Sarandon) with sad, last-minute presents (a shaver, gloves, watch) purchased at the airport; the discovery by the novelist’s daughter of his diary, in which she reads, in reference to her own madness, “observe its process and her descent;” the culminating scene of incest. Carey Mulligan, the young British actress who received much praise for her work in The Seagull on Broadway and in the 2009 film, An Education, plays the disturbed young woman, emphasizing both her withdrawal and a countervailing sexuality that blurs the boundaries between herself and others. Art, madness and God (the title derives from Corinthians) are the prevailing themes of the film, and it was Bergman’s brilliance to defy any of the facile connections among the varying set pieces having to do with the desire for greatness, schizophrenia and the search for meaning in a world where God appears only as a hallucination. The play, like the movie, is a series of missed connections in which the tragedy lies in helplessness and isolation, with no revelation explaining or solving anything. Unlike the movie, however, the play falls short in its rather clichéd depiction of Karin’s illness through swishy sounding voices. But why turn the movie into a play in the first place? However admirable the homage to a masterpiece, it’s all-too-obvious that the current production is overshadowed by the film. The Oedipal overtones, as they relate to competing works of art in two different media, might have amused Bergman who divided his time between theater and film.

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