Directed by Max Truax
At Red Tape Theatre , Chicago
Fuzzy religious themed early work by Ibsen too thick for contemporary audiences.
Not even the leading avant-garde director, Max Truax could , despite a dark, depressing set design (by Michael Mroch) and a totally dedicated cast, could make Henrik Ibsen’s 1866 verse tragedy, Brand, audience friendly. Written while Ibsen was on a self-imposed exile in Italy, Brand is a “think” piece about Ibsen’s Christian views concerning freedom of will and the use of sacrifice to illustrate one’s Christian faith.
Strewn with too much Old Testament references and long often unintelligible speeches from Cody Proctor, the deranged priest Brand – whose often low-volume speech patterns with a much too fast elocution and a mumbled cadence rendered much of his dialogue unintelligible. If he would only slow down a tad and punch out his words and not drop his volume at the end of a phrase, maybe we would understand what he was saying. When an audience has to work as hard as Max Traux’s does and ultimately fails to grasp what is going on and what all the religious dogma means, the show becomes an endurance battle rather than a audience challenge.
The dark staging and the gimmick of having characters move almost on top of an audience member was an unsettling element that didn’t yield benefits. The use of bible-speak like verse by Ibsen quickly became a series of good verse evil homilies. This dense work is complex and the presentation was extremely hard to follow. Add the too fast speech patterns only increased the confusion. The Brand character, played with intensity and truthfulness by Cody Proctor never achieved audience empathy due to us not fully understanding his words. What a shame. A clearer, more focused and trimmed translation would serve this religious allegory well. As now presented, one would almost need a degree in Christian theology to relate to the fanatical beliefs system that Brand demanded of himself and his family and ultimately his parishioners.
The press notes state: “Old Testament rage battles modern complacence when a furious priest attempts to reform a small town steeped in corruption. When the town gives Brand the pulpit he desires, his ideals prove his undoing.” Okay. I got that Brand was driven by a sense of self-sacrifices as he was able to let his child and his wife die for God. The action was so muddled and confusing that I’m not sure what was going on? This production proves the rule: if you confuse your audience, you’ll lose them. Many in the audience were looking at their watches – not a good sign on opening night.
I now know why Brand isn’t produced more often since it is a overly religious themed and wordy tragedy written in verse. A shorter, more focused (and less biblical) translation with a more articulate lead could work on stage. Maybe. This one is a ‘downer’ that will leave you wanting a stiff drink. Red Tape Theatre and Max Traux are talented artists who are not afraid to take chances – that’s a good thing – it’s just that this time it didn’t work.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 3, 2011
At Red Tape Theatre 621 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL