Wednesday, October 24, 2012

UMKC Theatre "Lady from the Sea" review by kellyluck

On the Perils of Being Landlocked Rating: 4

The Lady from the Sea
UMKC Theatre

For some little time now there has been an outlier hypothesis among a few renegade biologists and such that The Creature Eventually Known As Man spent a sizable amount of its development time in the sea. Adherents point to man's bipedalsim, relative hairlessness and so on as proof that we are an aquatic mammal come up to shore. This notion, which among biologists finds slightly less adherents then that of Prometheus creating humans from clay, nevertheless does find a certain appeal in the right minds. It seems we are drawn to the sea, after all: we explore it relentlessly; we congregate our major population centers next to it. We buy alarmingly expensive condominiums with views of it. Is it too soppy a notion to think that perhaps a little saltwater runs through our veins? And that our moods, our ecstasies, can be influenced by the shifting of the tide?

Take The Lady From The Sea, the Henrik Ibsen play now being performed by the UMKC Theatre: Ellida (Courtney Salvage) is trapped in a loveless marriage with Dr. Wangel (Logan Black), who married her shortly after losing his first wife. Every day she goes out and swims in the bay in their tiny tourist-trap town. There is kindness in the family, if not affection, but Ellida grew up on a lighthouse, the sea stretching away before her, and to be away from it is living death. Sensing this, the doctor sends for Arnholm (Michael R Pauley), who once tutored his two daughters, to cheer her up. But it is not until a ship comes in to the harbor bearing a Stranger (Antonio Jerron Glass) that the truth comes out: she fell in love with him, many years before, but he'd had to flee due to having killed his captain. In an impromptu ceremony, they tied their rings together and cast them into the sea, and he promised he would return and take her back. The rest of the play concerns Ellida's agony as she wrestles with herself, tries to decide between Wangel and the Stranger.

Ibsen of course is known as 'The Father of Realism', and with reason. He writes meticulous dialogue, lines stepping on each other, awkward phrases, the minutiae of everyday conversation are noted and faithfully reproduced. Done well, it can be quite affecting, and the group of student cast and crew assembled here does a commendable job. Special notice must be given to Mr Black, who brings an impressive maturity to his portrayal of the doctor and his anguish at being on the giving end of what is essentially a one-way relationship. Also there is Ms. Salvage, who manages to keep the histrionics right at the sweet spot. Also of note were Jessica Biernacki-Jensen and Janae Mitchell, who played Bolette and Hilde, Dr. Wangel's daughters by his first wife. They did a very good job bringing off the older/younger sibling dynamic, with Biernacki- Jenson's Bolette having taken the reluctant mantle of ersatz mother figure and Mitchell's Hilde still deep in the casual cruelties of childhood. Vincent Wagner is quite good as Lyngstrand, a conceited would-be sculptor down for the season, and Thomas E Tucker gives a very interesting Ballested--one rather wishes this character was not quite so sparsely used.

Technically, the show was very well presented. The sets by Kristen Yager were simple, and engineered so that transitions could be done swiftly and with minimum of fuss, which always meets with appreciation from this reviewer. Brandon J Clark's lighting design was very good, not just ably handling tricky water effects and dramatic scene setups, but subtle notes, like the gradual toning of light as the day approaches evening. Overall the production ran very smoothly, and came off very well.

Ibsen was a man fascinated by the sea, and by the ebb and flow of human interaction. In his other plays, he often came back to the theme of being trapped or to the complications between two married people. It's not a common choice for production, but a good one, and this reviewer for one appreciates the opportunity to see it here performed by a very talented group of students. Fans of Ibsen and modernism in general would do well to see for themselves this production before time washes it back out to sea and carries it away, as it must, indeed, do with all things.

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