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A third great performance came from Malmsjö's son Jonas, as the heroic student Arkenholz. (There are hints that the character may in fact be Hummel's son, in which case the old man's plot to marry him to the Young Lady—who is actually his daughter and not her putative father's—is truly nefarious.) Bergman's opening image, in which young Malmsjö writhed his way up from the stage floor in panic, suggested that the whole play might be his dream, but the actor's choices were all aimed at physical immediacy. He and Elin Klinga—the latter aloof, tormented, and seemingly near-blind as the Young Lady—went through what is often played as a rather genteel, disillusioning courtship as a species of violent roughhouse, marked by falls and grapplings that matched the fury and frustration in the lines.


The Ghost Sonata
By August Strindberg
BAM Harvey Theatre (Closed)

There was no serenity in this ending: Bergman removed all traces of Buddhism in favor of his own most startling image. When the Young Lady died, the Milkmaid's ghost came hurtling down the stage, to lie behind her in the same position; as the Young Lady's corpse was removed, the Milkmaid rose, performing a slow, ambiguous set of contorted, vaguely Hindu postures that might have meant either ultimate peace or a haunting that goes on. As at every other point, Bergman's fierce specificity turned out to share the play's ambiguous richness. Even his choice of music was dualistic: Though the scene breaks were washed in the ripe, yearning strains of Bartók's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta," the opening and closing moments used the sharp clacking sticks and low-toned hand drum that accompany entrances and exits in the Kabuki theater. I would say that Strindberg's play had never been seen more vividly in New York in my lifetime, except that I cannot remember, in 30 years of theatergoing, seeing it in a production by any major theater or company at all. I am as ashamed of New York today as Hummel's victims are of their guilty secrets. This city's theater, like the living-dead household where Arkenholz finds himself, is poisoned at the very source of its life. But then, there would be no point in doing a play 95 years old if it weren't about us; thanks to Bergman, we could see it in that light, even if only in Swedish, for five performances. Why our own artists can't achieve such things may be the greater mystery.

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