I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you – or I may have been in 1926, when Edouard Bordet’s “La Prisionnère,” the story of a young woman’s passion for another woman, was the talk of France’s theater-goers. It was quickly translated and adapted for Broadway by Arthur Hornblow Jr., and ran for 160 performances until the City of New York arrested everyone involved onsight (including cast member Basil Rathbone) and the producers shut it down the following night.
More’s the pity, because “The Captive,” despite belabored repetitions on its theme, is a play that resonates. The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective opens its season with a solid, intense rendition as part of the Fringe Festival, in two drawing rooms in Center City’s historic Physick House on Fourth Street. Dan Hodge’s vibrant staging of this exploration of being gay — and trapped by it 90 years ago – feels realistic inside rooms built in 1786.
One thing, though. Hornblow (who is curiously uncredited in the program notes) wrote his English translation in three acts and the Collective is running it in two. I understand that because the first half-hour or so takes place in one drawing room, and the other two acts in another, so why not blend those last two? Here’s why not: The play has an old-fashioned narrative, which is to say that it’s a bit belabored – a fact that becomes super-clear when the second and third acts are melded into a 70-minute push.
That said, hooray for fine performances from Rachel Brodeur, who nearly quivers visibly in her portrayal of the tortured young woman with the passion for another, and Chase Byrd as the man who loves her and agrees to marry her even thought he understands her situations – and then is unable to trust her. The other woman in his life is played by Felicia Leicht with the percolation of a jilted lover, and the rest of the cast gives highly considered support.
I saw and heard the first act from the side, and the second longer act in the sitting room for which it was staged, and I can attest that New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson was on the money when he reviewed the play in 1926 and called it “engrossing, haunting” and “expertly written” even as he tried to warn people that they may be pushed back by its theme. The times have changed, the effect is different, but “The Captive” still unfolds on solid ground._The Captive, presented by Philadelphia Artists’ Collective as part of the Philly Fringe Festival, runs through Sept. 20 at the Physick House, 3321 S. Fourth Street.
After the Rehearsal/Persona
There are more difficult experiences than witnessing three hours of Ingmar Bergman scripts rethought for the stage, and one of them is watching it all in an un-airconditioned theater where the 80-plus-degree heat competes with Bergman’s intensities. FringeArts is presenting two plays, “After the Rehearsal” and “Persona” as one show directed by Ivo van Hove, who runs Toneelgroep Amsterdam in The Netherlands and reimagined two movie scripts. Each is presented in Dutch, with surtitles.
What we get is a Super Derby of Angst with terrific acting and production design. Both shows involve characters who work in the theater, which gives them an insularity from the get-go. Pair that with the brooding sensibility of Bergman’s characters, and you have an evening that, while thoughtful, begins early on to feel overwrought.
“After the Rehearsal” is a 1984 made-for-TV movie and a real navel-gazer, in which two actresses parse their relationships with a director who’s unable to live a life of any emotions outside those derived from his work in the theater. I couldn’t feel much for these characters – locked in their own perceptions of themselves, they give us little reason to do so, plus Bergman builds a scant and rambling plot.
“Persona,” from Bergman’s 1966 film is another story altogether – the characters are fascinating and there’s structure to the script. The piece, which starred Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in the original movie, centers on an actress who goes mute during a performance of “Electra” and does not speak again. We see her naked – for no apparent reason – on a hospital gurney as a young nurse assesses her condition. The nurse claims she doesn’t have “the spiritual fortitude” to take care of the patient, but she’s also given no choice. The two of them end up at the lakeside cottage owned by a hospital supervisor. There, the actress might revive herself and her speech with fresh air.
The lake is a 10,000-gallon pool of water FringeArts installed at the 23d Street Armory, the venue for the shows. Jan Versweyveld’s expansive “Persona” set design, along with the uncredited lighting design, enhances “Persona” in striking ways. The four actors who perform these two shows – they are Marieke Heebink, Gaite Jansen, Gijs Scholten van Aschat and Frieda Pittoors – have a demanding night and give commanding performances, beautifully nuanced and emotionally honest.
Two scenes stand out: an exchange in “After the Rehearsal” in which a director and an actress make up a plot about their ensuing relationship because it’s the only way the director can have feelings about his life, and a long story told by the nurse in “Persona” about an orgy on a secluded beach. Jansen is the actress who tells that story and Heebink plays the mute woman who cannot speak to it. In fact, each speaks wonders – one in dialogue, the other in silence._After the Rehearsal/Persona, presented by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, runs at the Philly Fringe Festival through Sept. 5, at the armory at 23 S. 23d Street.
Click through for information about the Philly Fringe Festival, which runs through Sept. 19.