Actors find new inspiration for Ibsen
By Valerie Gladstone
Wrenn Schmidt loves playing the role of the highly sexual and manipulative Hilde in Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder. The current production, directed by Andrei Belgrader at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and starring John Turturro as the eminent and egomaniacal architect Halvard Solness, leaves Schmidt plenty of room to display the cunning that will totally derail Solness’s life. “Working with John is a blast,” Schmidt said to CityArts. “He’s willing to try anything. It’s like a duet, a dance.”
Belgrader gave his cast the freedom to try anything in order to shed new light on the powerful work. He and Turturro, both active in film, television and theater, had already collaborated before on Beckett’s Endgame in 2008 at BAM. This play was first published in 1892, around the time when Freudian psychology had begun to influence thinking about human behavior. Ibsen was, in a sense, doing some soul searching in his handling of these characters and their conflicts.
As a young man, he had been fascinated with the symbol of an architect building a castle in the air and a young girl out of reach in one of its towers. And like his protagonist, he had been tempted late in life by much younger women; he well understood both the excitement and the danger. This advanced stage of his life as a master playwright–“The Master Builder” is one of his last plays–is also echoed in the life of Solness. His buildings could be seen as symbols of Ibsen’s plays, which had become ever more grand in their themes over the years. He saw the arrogance of Solness’ rationalizations as he progressively lost a sense of reality; however, his empathy for Solness and the other characters gives the work remarkable resonance.
Concerned that at times Ibsen over-explains the characters’ impulses, Begrader compressed some scenes. “Andrei knows the script inside out, so he knows exactly what to bring out at exactly what moment,” Schmidt says. “He inspires me to keep digging to see what else is in the play and in Hilde. She is ruthless certainly but I believe she actually loves Solness. That’s my challenge–to show her in all her complexity. I believe the play is a love story.”
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