‘Peer Gynt’ is odd, original, and loaded with laughs at La Jolla Playhouse
By Diana Saenger
I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like “Peer Gynt.” If your funny bone needs tickling, taking in a performance at the La Jolla Playhouse might do the trick. Since it’s inception by Henrik Ibsen way back in the 1860s, the epic tale of one man’s search for identity continues to be staged and slightly tweaked. Director David Schweizer said he was so enamored of Ibsen’s peculiar poem/story, it was one of his first theatrical undertakings. He’s adapted it several times and brings another new version to the Playhouse.
The story doesn’t unfold normally. Peer Gynt’s (Danny Gavigan) unimaginable life evolves more like a roll of the dice. Sometimes it’s sixes, another snake eyes.
With antlers above a room ladened with huge armoires and antique lamps strewn about that appear hundreds of years old, it’s a surprise when five people take the stage and mill about for a few moments. Actually, these five performers – Danny Gavigan, Kate Cullen Roberts, Luis Moreno, Evan Zes and Birgit Huppuch – take on 50 characters in this comical journey.
The absurdity begins with a segment about Peer stealing a bride away on her wedding day; it continues when he wants to marry the Troll King’s weird daughter; and summits when Peer fashions himself a king in Morocco. But the most absurd moments of all come from Peer’s constant mutterings about being true to one’s self, this coming from a man who doesn’t know who he really is.
His women come and go, but he’s most attached to Solvang (Birgit Huppuch). They feud, make up, part, reunite, and she even promises to wait for him for what turns out to be years. In the meantime, there’s all that craziness going on around the set.
The actors’ plucky performances make this show. Whether you know what they’re doing or not, they’re funny most of the time (although, I did notice a few audience members who never laughed while others cackled endlessly).
Watching Evan Zes alone is worth the price of a ticket. He’s hilarious in almost every scene that makes little sense. The actors appear in amusing costumes or pieces of them – to name a few: elbow-long red gloves on Peer, pilot goggles, pointy green ears.
The creative team – David Zinn (Scenic Design); Christina Wright (Costume Design); Darrell Maloney (Lighting and Projection Design); and Ryan Rumery, (Composer/Sound Design) – have worked hard to create an original world. Be sure to make a visit!
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 to July 24.
Where: Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus
Box Office: (858) 550-1010
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