Theater Review: Proving August Strindberg’s Greatness

D Magazine
By M. Lance Lusk Published in Arts & Entertainment

I am always saying I would like to see more plays by August Strindberg. His experiments in expressionist and surrealist techniques and dream-like Scandinavian moodiness are beyond intoxicating to this critic. Now, the chance to see an original work about that incomparable Swede, done in his distinctive style by an incredible director and playwright was a theatrical blessing. Theatre TCU presents Born on a Sunday written and directed by T.J. Walsh.

There is a reason Eugene O’Neill referred to Strindberg in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech as “that greatest genius of all modern dramatists.” He was an exceedingly prolific polymath playwright, poet, essayist, novelist, painter, and dabbler in the sciences. However, he experienced a tumultuous time of psychotic attacks, paranoia, delusions, and religious turmoil while he was abroad in Paris in the 1890s called the “Inferno crisis.”

The program notes inform the audience that much of what we are seeing is “true…the rest is imagination.” And that is the special genius of Walsh’s play, that investigation of this crucial time in Strindberg’s life seen through a speculative lens that resembles his visionary experiences that straddle the real and dream worlds. From Brian Clinnin’s whimsical, bridge-like set of wood beams, rivets, curves, and elevated platforms, to the clear, fantastical, and chilling sound design and composition, and lights by Chris Hassler and Jim Rogers respectively, to Yuheng Dai’s luxurious period frock coats, gowns, and Victorian-inspired dance outfits this is a play that sets a definite mood of history and reverie.

Walsh, an Associate Professor of Theatre at TCU, is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of the excellent Trinity Shakespeare Festival. Born on a Sunday is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, but the fact that Walsh is able to fashion a production of such superior quality with non-professional actors in training is mind blowing. They handle this difficult and unconventional material with artistic ease.

Standouts from this excellent ensemble include Bradley Gosnell as the tortured Strindberg, Gabriel Whitehurst as Dr. Horatio Christensen, the Danish psychologist who befriends and treats the playwright with hypnosis, and Shae Lynn Goldston as a fiery feminist doctor in love with Horatio. A special note of recognition too for the sylphlike Furies/Muses (Marisa Bonahoom, Caroline Iliff, Jackie Raye, Abbie Ruff, Lexie Showalter, Kelsey Summers, and Zach Gamet as The Power) who plague and inspire Strindberg. Choreography by Penny Ayn Maas contributes to this chilling ballet of intertwined and inspired madness.

Strindberg craving fulfilled.