Sounding, Inspired by Ibsen, Could Use His Depth


Grieving for her deceased infant, the alluring Leda (Okwui Okpokwasili) passes her days gazing at the Cape Cod seashore. In the waves, she senses the transcendence life offered during her youthful stint as a Patti Smith­–like art rocker in New York. In that enchanted time, she promised herself to a soul-stirring musician called The Stranger. Now, married to a psychiatrist instead, she hears The Stranger’s voice pulling her into an existential undertow.

Sounding—written by Jennifer Gibbs and directed by Kristin Marting—is inspired by Ibsen’s 1888 Lady From the Sea, and could do with some of that original play’s emotional depths. Through Okpokwasili’s evocative singing and Kamala Sankaram’s music, we can grasp that Leda dwells in a tumultuous headspace. Grainy video of ocean, beach grass, and babies in silhouette support the point. But naturalistic scenes depicting a weekend of dalliances deflate the production’s potential; performed with minimal affect and staged without visual or psychological focus, the narrative portion underlines just how much this adaptation flattens the source play. The diminutive dunes of Cape Cod can’t compare with the mystical heights of Norwegian fjords. Ibsen portrayed the Romantic artist-hero poised on a Freudian precipice. In its postmodern coolness, Sounding is more mannered—moody, but void of feeling.


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