La Jolla Playhouse stages adaptation of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’

By Diana Saenger

When Henrik Ibsen released “Peer Gynt” in 1867, he thought his play was so bizarre that it would never be performed.The plot involves Peer, a man who both swindles and charms his way through life looking for fame and fortune, but who has dreams of becoming a troll that are very real to him.

Now, 144 years later, the infamous work is still being staged, as La Jolla Playhouse’s version (a co-production with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre) runs through July 24 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

Director David Schweizer has taken Ibsen’s epic tale of one man’s search for identity and made it funny, unexpected and completely relevant to contemporary lives. Courtesy

Director and “adaptor” David Schweizer (“Tobacco Road”) began directing right out of college. His repertoire includes everything from operas to casino shows, as well as national and international theatrical productions staged regionally and Off-Broadway. His direction of the 2000 Broadway hit, “And God Created Great Whales,” won an OBIE Award.

Schweizer did an earlier adaptation of “Peer Gynt” for international audiences, but made minor changes for the Playhouse show. His “Peer Gynt” is a sweeping epic with five actors playing 40 characters.

“I fell in love with the piece as young man,” Schweizer said. “And I hit upon the idea of doing it with just a couple of actors as the story’s 40 odd characters. That first showing in the 1970s came to the attention of Joseph Papp and launched me into theater. Papp became my mentor.

“My translation of Ibsen is quite faithful in that all of events and incidents are directly those in play. I haven’t made up anything or created scenes, but when his language would get playful and colloquial, I found modern equivalents for that. Audiences know it’s an older play, but that it’s brought into the moment, and hopefully, it has a timeless quality.”

In a press release touting the production, Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley said, “Schweizer has taken Ibsen’s epic tale of one man’s search for identity and made it funny, unexpected and completely relevant to our contemporary lives.”

Schweizer said Ibsen was a writer who challenged what you could do in the theater. “He has a way that weaves real scenes and dream scenes, and plays with different tones that are highly emotionally butted up against scenes that are hilarious and almost vaudevillian.”

Directing five actors in 40 different roles is a challenge for all involved in the process, so Schweizer said he relies on skilled and charming actors who want to watch and savor the task of the play.

“They bring an enormous amount of ideas to rehearsals, and of course, I have to come equipped with ways to help them and share the vision of how the different characters will register on stage and what kind of tone is right for the scene.”

He called “Peer Gynt” surprising and entertaining, with an epiphany ending that’s very positive and emotional.

“I’m very conscious of an audience taking away a boon to their spirit. I have a lot of love for the audience, they have been my friends all my life,” Schweizer said.

The cast includes Danny Gavigan (Peer Gynt, Buttonmoulder and others); Birgit Huppuch (Ase, Solveig and others); Luis Moreno (Peer Gynt, Troll King and others); Kate Cullen Roberts (Ingrid, Anitra and others); and Evan Zes (as Peer Gynt, Mads Moen and others).

David Zinn designed the sets. Christina Wright created the costumes.

If you go

What: “Peer Gynt”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 7 p.m. Sunday: June 28-July 24.

Where: Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus

Tickets: $31-$66

Box Office: (858) 550-1010

Web: lajollaplayhouse.org

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) was a Norwegian playwright, director, and poet  He is often referred to as “the father” of modern theater and the greatest playwright since Shakespeare. His works include Brand, Peer GyntAn Enemy of the PeopleEmperor and GalileanA Doll’s HouseHedda GablerGhostsThe Wild Duck, and Rosmersholm.Courtesy

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Posted by Staff on Jun 28, 2011. Filed under A & E, Theater. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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