"Persona" | Photo by Jan Versweyveld
From the stage version of
From the stage version of “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman | Photo by Jan Versweyveld

By Randy Gener

PHILADELPHIA |  Forget the sanctified Image Maker. Don’t bother to bone up on Ingmar Bergman’s films before seeing Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s raw and urgent twofer, After the Rehearsal/Persona, which will have its U.S. premiere September 3, 4 and 5 at the 2015 Fringe Arts Festival in Philadelphia. What’s the point of seeking to certify a heartbreaking work of stagecraft by comparing it to Bergman’s cinema aesthetics?

Allow me to press the point. Shortsighted comparison freaks come in two rabid forms. Film devotees tend to hate on Bergman movies-to-play forays because they can’t help but be sincere to a thudding fault.

And then there are bleary-eyed critics — Christopher Isherwood’s New York Times review of van Hove’s Cries and Whispers being a prime example — who lazily argue that “Bergman’s use of dramatic magnifying close-ups is more or less impossible to translate effectively.” To which we can only say, well, duh. What of it?

For both of these replicants, Ingmar Bergman is like a sacred cow. These predictable drudges, based on my years of experience shuttling between the five Nordic countries in search of good theater, are missing the greater point. The film world has always thumbed its nose on the literary merits of Bergman’s writings, a majority of which consists of film scripts and workbooks.

From the stage version of “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman | Photo by Jan Versweyveld

Collectively, the Flemish-Belgian director Ivo van Hove, the Antwerp-born scenographer Jan Versweyveld and the animalistic actors of Toneelgroep Amsterdam have been creating a new and path-finding stage expression that seeks to defy aged and rusted beliefs about the dramatic values of Bergman’s heightened language and stage-worthy dialogue.

In van Hove’s translucently clear interpretation, Ingmar Bergman’s men and women give us messy stuff to puzzle over. Language breaks down. Illusions are rent asunder. Realities dissolve.

After the Rehearsal touches our feelings because of Bergman’s personal admission (perhaps van Hove’s, too?) that theatrical illusions are becoming truer than reality itself. Persona is a defiant cry. It is a howl of silence that wants to ward off life’s abject painfulness and the threat of theater’s utter uselessness. Together, they convey Bergman’s troubled ambivalence to the roles that theater and fiction—by extension, art—play in our lives, in our personal relationships and in our social realities. — rg


Philadelphia’s FringeArts Festival

*Thurs, Sept 3 at 8pm Fri, Sept 4 at 8pm Sat, Sept 5 at 8pm

Venue: 23rd Street Armory / Address: 22 South 23rd Street, Philadelphia 19103

Tickets: $35 for public and $15 for students
To purchase tickets: 215.413.1318
Or Click here: https://pafringe.secure.force.com/ticket/#sections_a0Fi000000IKvAJEA1
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CultureofOneWorld.org is a NYC-based production, event and media project devoted to U.S. news, foreign diplomacy, cultural issues, innovative art projects and journalism in the public interest. Learn more about the proprietor at MediaKit.RandyGener.org

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  1. Hey Philly fella: Wow. No, Philadelphia is not “lowly” at all (that’s a stereotype). Including Philadelphia is part of “One World.” It helps that I have been an observer for the Pew Center for Arts Heritage based in Philadelphia.

    I wrote a major in-depth cover story about Ivo, Jan and their Dutch troupe for American Theatre magazine during the time I worked as Senior Editor for TCG. I wanted to write about American artists, but I was “censored” by those people there at TCG. Your very nice comments are heartwarming.

  2. Hey Randy.
    Can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read your remarkable prose once again. And even lowly Philadephia warrants your critical notice! I look forward to seeing installments with more regularity and sincerely hope that the long literary Gener
    drought is over at last! All the best.

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