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August Strindberg | Theatre!

Strindberg still remains among the most modern of moderns, the greatest interpreter in the theatre of the characteristic spiritual conflicts which constitute the drama--the blood! He carried naturalism to the logical attainment of such poignant intensity that, if the work of any other playwright is to be called "naturalism," we must classify a play like The Dance of Death as "supernaturalism" and place it in a class by itself, exclusively Strindberg's since no one before or after him has had the genius to qualify.


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Yet it is only by means of some form of "super-naturalism" that we may express in the theatre what we comprehend intuitively of that self-defeating self-obsession which is the discount we moderns have to pay for the loan of life. The old "naturalism"--or "realism," if you prefer would to God some genius was gigantic enough to define clearly the separateness of these terms once and for all --no longer applies. It represents our father's daring aspirations toward self-recognition by holding the family Kodak up to ill-nature.

But to us their old audacity is blague; we have taken too many snapshots of each other in graceless position; we have endured too much from the banality of surfaces. We are ashamed of having peeked through so many keyholes, squinting always at heavy, uninspired bodies--the fat facts--with not a nude spirit among them; we have been sick with appearances and are convalescing; we "wipe out and pass on" to some as yet unrealized region where our souls, maddened by loneliness and the ignoble inarticulateness of flesh, are slowly evolving their new language of kinship.

August Strindberg

Strindberg knew and suffered with our struggle years before many of us were born. He expressed it by intensifying the method of his time and by foreshadowing both in content and form the methods to come.

All that is enduring in what we loosely call "Expressionism"--all that is artistically valid and sound theatre--can be clearly traced back through Wedekind to Strindberg's The Dream Play, There Are Crimes and Crimes, The Spook Sonata , etc Hence, The Spook Sonata at our Playhouse. Conceived before Freud described the Oedipus Complex, the play offers a proto-Freudian explanation of the unreasonable hatred that can exist between husbands and wives.

Another psychoanalytic interpretation of "The Father" is that Strindberg shows how love can turn to hate when a man seeking a mother-madonna finds in the sex act a mistress-whore. Strindberg's marriage to Siri von Essen was deteriorating at the time and situations in the play could have loosely recalled their marital strife.

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Depending on the time of history, audiences tend to side with either the captain or his wife. The captain's insistence on "male perogatives" makes it sometimes seem that his wife's scheming brings him his just deserts. At other times, he seems a tragic victim of a diabolical female who, in the course of the play, is even told by the Pastor and the Doctor that she is a monster.

Nowadays, audiences can't help switching sides back and forth in watching it.

Greer's translation does not steer us toward either conclusion; instead it finds hidden sexual meanings in the original Swedish dialogue bowdlerized in many translations that seem to drive the play. Much of it comes from the sexual electricity between the wife and the doctor.

The translation doesn't resort to crude language, but it does convey some of the subtext that is near the surface. Meanwhile, deeper subtext is left in place for the actors to mine in their performances. Stage manager is Georgeta Seserman.