Some art forms and authors are known better through satire than in the actual. Few who’ve seen Bugs Bunny can ever take opera seriously. 1999’s Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk by the Burglars of Hamm lampooned Strindberg and his like in unforgettable fashion. Sam Shepard took it in the shorts from the Future Stars of Hollywood and their Go True West. A problem arises when one unfamiliar with such an artistic legend takes in a production of a well-known work to make up for large gaps in one’s knowledge. By one, I mean me.
Brian Finney, an actor capable of great depth, tries his hand at directing Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata at The Actor’s Gang Ivy Substation space in Culver City. It isn’t until the curtain speech that we’re alerted to this being a workshop production, not reviewed, and asked to tell our friends if we happened to like it.
This is an acceptably uneven experiment best enjoyed by those who’ve seen a lot of Strindberg, who understand why he’s a big deal, and who are interested in theatrical experiments. Those people need to move quickly, it closes in a week. Finney and his large, uneven cast apply the Gang’s well-known Style and a lot of effects including a fully lipsynched first scene to a stark and rather depressing work. It is hard for the uninitiated to understand why this play is so highly regarded. There are several flashes of promise when a pairs and trios of characters get in gear and the production begins to take wing. And then it abruptly porpoises and crashes when the broadly-played commedia yanks the air out from under it.
It is the rule in technology that prototypes and breadboards need a lot of extra components and structure to provide flexibility and diagnostics during development. Further, that these are progressively and ruthlessly discarded as an idea becomes a product. It will be interesting to see this play again after the team considers it fully ready – to understand what they considered vital and what were detours. I’m not confident I’ll like the answers, though.