Through a Glass Darkly
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted by Jenny Worton
Directed by David Leveaux
It may seem very sensible for director David Leveaux and playwright Jenny Worton to adapt Ingmar Bergman's 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly
for the stage: the auteur's intimate drama of a young woman slipping into schizophrenic fantasy despite her husband, father and brother's next-to-best intentions has a perfect scope and ideal enveloping emotional environment for the stage, enabling subtle, dynamic, clever performances and elegant quasi-Scandinavian set design. Its lead, Karin—played by Carey Mulligan
in this Atlantic Theater Company
production (through July 3)—also fits into a storied lineage of beautiful, hysterical fallen female heroines populated by characters from Strindberg, Williams and countless others. But any such adaptation also has the inevitable misfortune of being measured against one of the best movies by one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema.
Without reference to that unmatchable precedent, this Through a Glass Darkly
still feels thin, especially in its first half. Even at only 90, intermission-less minutes, much of the initial expository scene-setting—the emotionally unavailable and self-absorbed novelist father David (Chris Sarandon), Karin, her over-eager to please doctor husband Martin (Jason Butler Harner) and angsty teenage brother Max (Ben Rosenfield), all vacationing at the family's island house—is unnecessarily drawn out. And then, considering what high percentage of the audience has seen the film, these establishing passages seem all the more lethargic. This production becomes more gripping as Karin's descent accelerates after she reads a particularly hurtful passage in her father's diary. What he writes doesn't seem especially different from his preceding behavior, which is symptomatic of this production's larger problems.
All the family's problems, anxieties and antimony can too easily be attributed to David's dick-ish behavior, and Sarandon's coy, slightly mannered portrayal only adds to his character's one-dimensionality. Had David shown a greater degree of warmth and affection we might have shifted our attention onto other possible causes of the family's downfall, but as he constantly exacerbates and demeans those who love him, he detracts from the situation's more complex emotional resonances.
Happily, the rest of the cast is very strong, Mulligan and Rosenfield in particular. She starts out switching emotional registers uncannily from one scene to the next, but as Karin's disorder deepens Mulligan performs some acting acrobatics, going from affectionate to apologetic to angry to terrified in the space of a few minutes. It's a challenging role that demands a kind of peeling away of the psyche until Karin is just a bundle of raw nerves deeply affected by every change within and without, actual or imagined, and Mulligan does superbly. Set, lighting and sound design to match help brighten this Through a Glass Darkly
that's so substantially dimmed by Worton's initially clumsy adaptation and Sarandon's disappointing performance.
(Photo: Ari Mintz)