Henrik Ibsen knew The Secret. Or so it seems from this play (through June 9), one of his last, an autobiographically informed work about art, age and the cost of one's career. It's awkwardly both realism and fairy tale: what to make of the celebrated architect at its core when he repeatedly insists that his silent desires manifest themselves—that he can will his wishes into being? Maybe it's just to explain the dramatic clumsiness; how else to excuse the free-spirited young lady, Hilde, with nothing but the sack on her back who suddenly swoops into the builder's life and upends it? This dramaturgy could use a master builder!
Psychologically, though, Ibsen's play (translated by David Edgar) is sharp: the central character, Halvard, is a middle-aged master terrified of the up-and-coming generation; he knows that old = passé. His fear also seems a manifestation of the loss many years ago of his 20-day-old twins. He sees that as divine punishment, his dead babies a reminder that Halvard owes his duty to god and art, not self. In defiance, he stopped building churches, instead designing beautiful homes to deal with the "death" of his own.
This unfussy and well-acted production, directed by Andrei Belgrader, vivifies such strong emotions and knotty psychology. (Much of Santo Loquasto's set leans at a 45-degree angle, suggesting the relationships underneath it are similarly askew.) As Halvard, John Turturro gives a solid, anchoring performance—bitter, afraid, growly—but like his character, he's threatened by the young people around him, especially Wrenn Schmidt as Hilde, who gets from mark to mark by crawling across the floor as often as walking. She makes all of the play's talk about "tall steeples" feel especially sexy.
Photo Graeme Mitchell