‘The Storm’ Tells Story of Marriage and Revenge

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre will present Strindberg’s “The Storm,” adapted and directed by Robert Greer, October 4 to 30, 2015 as part of an exploration of the author’s final works. The piece deals with the marriage foibles of an elderly government minister. Strindberg named it Opus 1 of his “Chamber Plays” and wrote it for his Intimate Theater in Stockholm, where it was produced in 1907-8. It will be performed in rotating repertory during the month of October with “Burnt House,” Opus 2 of the Chamber Plays, which is also translated by Robert Greer and adapted and directed by Whitney Gail Aronson. Both productions are at Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, where August Strindberg Rep is the resident company.

Alyssa Simon as the former wife. In mirror: Laurence Cantor as The Minister, Mary Baynard as his housekeeper.
Standing: Alyssa Simon as the former wife. In mirror: Laurence Cantor as The Minister, Mary Baynard as his housekeeper. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

“The Storm” is a remarkable picture of old age, depicting an elderly government minister who lives in an apartment in a house where he had once been happy with his divorced wife. Having left her because he was too old for her and having lost access to his daughter in a painful divorce, he is about to be lured into marriage again by a distant cousin who is living as his housekeeper. The position of Housekeeper in Victorian Sweden, an institution in wealthy society, was one of great upward mobility because it afforded women exposure to important people.

On a simple level, the play offers the theme “there’s no fool like an old fool.” On a more complex level, it is probably the best of Strindberg’s marriage plays (and prose), his “last word” on the matter (he never wrote about marriage again) and the most directly autobiographical piece in his canon. The play was probably written for revenge against his third wife, the actress Harriet Bosse, to whom he was married from 1901 to 1904 and had one daughter, named Anne-Marie. Strindberg was smeared and dishonored in their divorce.

Harriet is represented in the play as Genvieve, the Minister’s divorced wife, who surprises him by unknowingly renting an upper floor of his house together with her new husband, an abusive actor-turned-con man, and a daughter who has been taught not to know who her real father is.

The character of Louise, the Minister’s third cousin and housekeeper, is an image of Fanny Falkner, a young painter-actress who came into Strindberg’s Intimate Theater company in 1907 to do small parts and became an able and valuable actress. (Strindberg wrote roles for her that he would have written for his previous wives, Siri von Essen and Harriet Bosse.)

Initially, Strindberg considered her for the role of Eleonora in his play “Easter.” She did not get the part, but the contact between Falkner and Strindberg resulted in his renting part of her parents’ apartment on Drottninggatan, Bla tornet. Later when rumors spread that Strindberg would propose to Ms. Faulkner, she returned to Copenhagen and resumed her painting career. Historians take this as evidence that the pair actually had a love affair and theorize that while Strindberg did not marry her, their relationship inspired him to imagine a dramatic situation in which he did – or was about to – and this was the basis for this play.

The Chamber Plays (“The Storm,” “Burnt House,” “The Ghost Sonata,” “The Pelican” and “The Black Glove”) are among Strindberg’s last plays. After their debuts in Strindberg’s Intimate Theater in Stockholm in 1907-8, he fell into declining health and died in 1911. The plays were written as a set with musical concepts. “The Storm” has very specific music cues. “The Ghost Sonata” is an actual sonata. The plays even have Opus numbers: “The Storm” is Op. 1 and “Burnt House” is Op. 2, although their premieres did not take place in that order. Through the years, Sweden’s greatest directors have staged both plays and Sweden’s leading actors, including Erland Josephson, have acted the part of The Minister.

In keeping with the minimalist style productions at Strindberg’s Intimate Theatre (which were radical in their time), both “Burnt House” and “The Storm” will be produced on an essentially bare stage. “Burnt House” will have hanging scenery evoking the orchard visible now that the house that had obscured its view has burnt down. In “The Storm,” the facade of The Cabinet Minister’s house will serve as the fourth wall.

“The Storm” will be acted by Laurence Cantor as The Minister, Curtis James Nielson as his diplomat brother and lawyer, Alyssa Simon as Genvieve, his ex-wife and Mary Baynard as Louise, his housekeeper. Set design is by You-Shin Chen. Lighting design is by Benjamin Ehrenreich. Costume design is by Jessa-Raye Court.

Accompanying Production:

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre will also present Strindberg’s “Burnt House” October 3 to 20, adapted by Robert Greer and directed by Whitney Gail Aronson, in rotating repertory with “The Storm.” “Burnt House” is the story of a man who burns down his house to collect insurance and to revenge himself on a lodger who is having an affair with his much younger wife. Performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 4:00 PM. Ticket package: both shows $30, available at: www.smarttix.org. More info: www.jsnyc.com/season/burnt_house.htm.

About August Strindberg Rep

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (www.strindberg.org), under the direction of Robert Greer, is committed to production of the author’s best, and less often performed, plays in new translations and interpretations that illuminate the plays for today’s American audience. The company made an auspicious debut in 2012 with Strindberg’s autobiographical play “Playing with Fire,” adapted by the late Leslie Lee. The play was re-set from a Swedish Victorian summer house to the black community of Oak Ridge, on Martha’s Vineyard, in the 1920s. That production opened at The New School Theatre and expanded to an Off-Broadway production at the Gene Frankel Theatre, the company’s present home. It received three Audelco nominations: Best Revival, Best Ensemble and Best Costume Design. Cast members from “Playing with Fire” returned to play their corresponding roles in an equally autobiographical play, “Easter,” the next season. “Easter” was adapted from a Swedish coastal town in 1901 to Harlem in 1958. Robert Greer directed both productions.

The company presented a double-bill of Strindberg’s “Casper’s Fat Tuesday” and “The Stronger” in October, 2012 (in a run that was overshadowed by Hurricane Sandy). “Mr. Bengt’s Wife,” Strindberg’s answer to Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House,” was presented in September 2013. In Spring, 2014 the company presented “To Damascus, Part 1,” adapted to Harlem, 1962. Last fall, the company presented an adaptation of “Miss Julie” set in the Antebellum South. Its last production, last spring, was the historical drama “Kristina” (1903), the unacknowledged basis for the Garbo film “Queen Christina.” August Strindberg Rep is the resident company at the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Robert Greer (director) is founding director of August Strindberg Rep. He has directed English-language premieres of numerous contemporary Scandinavian playwrights, including Sweden’s Marianne Goldman, Helena Sigander, Cecilia Sidenbladh, Oravsky and Larsen, Hans Hederberg, Margareta Garpe and Kristina Lugn; Denmark’s Stig Dalager and Norway’s Edvard R

  • nning. He has also directed classics by Victoria Benedictsson, Laura Kieler, Anne Charlotte Leffler, Amalie Skram and August Strindberg. His productions have been presented at the Strindberg Museum and Strindberg Festival, Stockholm; Edinburgh and NY Fringe Festivals, Barnard College, Columbia University, Rutgers, UCLA; Miranda, Pulse and Theater Row Theaters, La MaMa E.T.C., Manhattan Theatre Source, Tribeca Lab, Synchronicity, TSI, BargeMusic; and The Duplex in LA. He has also directed plays by Mario Fratti, Sartre and Corneille here in New York. He is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Broadway League, Actors’ Equity; the Strindberg Society, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study and Swedish Translators in North America.

    The show is presented from October 4 to 30, 2015 by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association with Theater Resources Unlimited. Performances are Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM at Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (between Bowery and Lafayette, East Village). Preview is Sunday, October 4; opens Wednesday, October 7. Tickets are $18 general admission; seniors and students $12. Student groups $9. Box office is SMARTTIX, 212-868-4444; www.smarttix.com. The company’s website is www.strindberg.org.

    This show is presented in rotating repertory with “Burnt House” by August Strindberg. Ticket package available: both shows $30.