The world's full of surprises: In Robert Wilson's production of Peer Gynt, he actually follows a few of Ibsen's stage directions. Despite his total lack of theater sense, he may become a competent director someday. Not just yet, though. Originally written only to be read, the comic epic clocks in at about four hours no matter who's directing, but four hours of Robert Wilson is a numbingly barren country mile from the lush, darkly funny, hauntingly poetic adventures of Ibsen's smugly brazen antihero. Staying home with the book would be more fun, but at least at BAM one could hear the whole play in Norwegian (the production's a joint effort by two of Norway's state theaters), while Wilson's blood-freezing onstage stasis leaves you lots of time to read the supertitles.
Still, Peer Gynt's droll treasury of images can perk up even a sensibility as arid as Wilson's. There are bits of actual choreography, some, like Peer's frolic with the herd girls, lively, if inapt. Michael Galasso's music gives the scenes a strong, lovely underpinning. But Wilson's pedantic notion of comedy, all grunts and overemphasis, kills most of the play's humor, while his rigid, death bringer's idea of stage action makes every event feel the same. A wedding, a madhouse, a business conference, or a storm at sea all evoke the same meaninglessly stylized gestures, the same empty declamation punctuated by miscellaneous noises, the same slow crawl toward no climax. The actors show resource; pity they couldn't show us the play's humanity.
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