Ibsen's Rosmersholm is a crazy quilt of political prescience, psychological cunning, and shaggy melodrama, a sort of Master Builder on steroids. That the Pearl Theatre is tackling this 1886 relative obscurity at all is heartening. That director Elinor Renfield hits it out of the park is cause for celebration.
Careful of those free-thinkers! Cover and Cuskern in Rosmersholm
Rosmersholm By Henrik Ibsen New York City Center Stage II 131 West 55th Street 212-581-1212, pearltheatre.org
The plot (Mike Poulton did the new adaptation) crystallizes around a well-born widower, Johannes Rosmer (Bradford Cover), whose relationship with the free-thinking young Rebecca West (Margot White) has turned him into a sort of proto–Third Way peacemaker. Nudging them toward or away from their destiny is a radical Machiavel with the most to gain from Rosmer's conversion (Dominic Cuskern) and a genial reactionary with the most to lose from it (Austin Pendleton, back to his winning old form)—plus Rosmer's dead wife, whose sad end carries its own bizarre pull.
As Rosmersholm shifts into a potboiler rife with murky parentages and suicide pacts, Cover and White have by far the heaviest lifting to do. But their success at this is nearly complete, and even by the turgid finale, Renfield's crisp yet patient direction sees to it that the piece never degenerates into a curio for completists. This is a gloriously smooth production of a gloriously rough work, one that should linger in the minds of those willing to take the plunge.