By Randy Gener
This is the second half of a 2-part essay. Click here to read Part 1.
STOCKHOLM | Apart from the films, Ingmar Bergman’s theatrical legacy solidly rests upon the close to 130 productions of classics (Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Strindberg, Mishima) he staged for regional Swedish troupes, civic theatres and Dramaten (Royal Dramatic Theater) in a career that had spanned 70 years.
Because of the elements of caprice and control that ruled his seductive directing style, various critics and scholars have made a smorgasbord meal out of scrutinizing the uncanny similarities between his theater and his cinema.
One Bergman enthusiast (it doesn’t matter who because they all spit out academic gobbledygook) offered an extended “theoretical reflection on the interartiality and intermediality” of the Bergman archive. Maarte Koskinen, the film critic and author of In the Beginning was the World: Ingmar Bergman’s Early Writings, has written eloquently of the irresistible urge to seek likeness and repetition amid the lingering desire, especially among film scholars, to insist on a traditional auteur-theory approach in the recent surge to revisit Bergman’s body of work.
Bergman — Koskinen writes, with emphases all her own — “not only theatricalizes his films but cinematises as well as pictorialises his theatre productions.” At the Ingmar Bergman International Theatre Festival, talking heads at a symposium called “The Unknown Bergman” devoted themselves to hitherto unexplored areas such as the radio drama and queer aspects of Bergman’s works.
All of this theoretical heavy lifting served to install a critical bulwark upon which Dramaten, the Ingmar Bergman Foundation and perhaps Fårö Foundation could justify their necessary exploitation of Bergman’s films as pop-mythical inspirations for artsy stage adaptations.
(The Swede’s obsessively bleak films and actor-centered classical stagings signified an aesthetic showmanship. In effect, they represented a grave lobbying to self-fashion himself into a natural dramatist alongside August Strindberg and Albert Camus. Not surprising since Bergman started out as a dabbling playwright before veering into directing.)
Bergman was famously averse to and fearful of critical appraisals of his literary output. Yet his scripts and his brand name have become, at least for non-Swedish directors and young Swedish theater-makers working outside the Royal-Dramatic-Theater circuit, a system of signs that express their own ideas.
When confronted with, say, the gorgeous strangeness of the German director Andreas Kriegenburg’s From the Life of the Marionettes — a nightmare delving into the broken marriage of a couple, named Peter and Katarina Egerman (supporting characters from Scenes from a Marriage) — Bergman enthusiasts and film fanatics were the first ones to cry foul.
Hilariously these devotees had the most difficult time re-tuning their minds and seeing the arresting show in front of them. They couldn’t help but continue to project onto the stage the unqualified cinematic masterpieces running in their minds.
It’s a shame. Why? Because Kriegenburg’s From the Life of the Marionettes kept alerting us to the elephant in the room.
Unfolding in a lacquer-red cage and peep show under the blossoming branches of a Japanese cherry tree, Kriegenburg’s From the Life of the Marionettes presented an overripe vision of marital relations as a kitschy playpen. It’s deliberately structured as a series of distinct scenes, mostly monologues and two-hander dialogues. Yet from the moment the character of Peter Egerman calls his psychiatrist after having murdered a prostitute, the show hypnotizes.
Kriegenburg’s productions marry his talents as a scenographer and as a director. They tend to be intentionally different even in those instances when they are not particularly innovative. His stagings — Aeschylus’ The Oresteia in 2002, Friedrich Hebbel’s Die Niebelungen in 2004; Dea Loher’s The Final Fire in Hamburg, for which he won a Faust theatre award) — are consistently creative and thoughtful, conducted with forward momentum and careful accumulations of intensity.
Born in Magedeburg on 15 November 1963, Kriegenburg was first trainer a model carpenter and technician. In 1984 he moved to the Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre in Zittau as an assistant director. There he made his directorial debut in the same year with Yevegeny Schwarz’s Little Red Riding Hood. In November 1989, the day when the Berlin Wall came down, he producer Lothar Trolle’s Barrack Residents (as a reaction to what he called “the euphoria sweeping the country at the time”).
There is a similar subversiveness to the Stockholm From the Life of the Marionettes I saw at the Ingmar Bergman International Theatre Festival. Kriegenburg’s scenic and choreographic stylings heightened the coldly distanced quality of Bergman’s script, as various people in the protagonist’s life speculate on how such a crime could have come to pass.
The evening’s three-hour architecture was that of a flashback, in which the initial murder scene constantly repeated in developing increments and then reached a frightening climax in the final replay.
The actors, all first rate, submitted themselves to the director’s intense physicalization of humanity as a motley of lost souls and puppets being controlled by unseen forces and existential urges.
Particularly wondrous was Helmut Mooshammer as Tim, the gay friend who reveals his subversive manipulation of the Egerman’s marriage by harboring an unrequited attraction to the intense Egerman, who was compellingly portrayed by Jorg Pose.
The super-shiny erotic cabaret of Kriegenburg’s From the Life of the Marionettes did not move or look like an Ingmar Bergman film, without a doubt. It was it’s own German creation.
If anything, the voluptuous production served to mask and elide the huge question of this recent Swedish trend of staging Bergman’s film scripts: From a purely literary standpoint, does Bergman truly belong alongside our dramatic masters?
To properly answer that conundrum, I might need to embark on a longer research in Europe.
Looking for another example of how a big-name director has staged another Ingmar Bergman film? Read my essay on After the Rehearsal/Persona.
Entitled “Under the Spell of Ivo van Hove, Ingmar Bergman Has His Say,” this piece was commissioned by the Philadelphia-based FringeArts Festival producers who are giving the U.S. premiere of the Dutch production of After the Rehearsal/Persona, helmed by Ivo van Hove and his scenic design Jan Versweyveld. Click here for tickets and details.