If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
A GRIM “AUTUMN SONATA” AT YALE REP
The tempestuous bonds that bend and break between mother and daughter are exposed in “Autumn Sonata”, the world premiere drama based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 film currently on stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Based on a literal translation by Wendy Weckwerth and directed with a huge nod to Bergman by Robert Woodruff, this stage adaptation is not without its curiosity factor but will never take the place of the original.
“Autumn Sonata” is a long, unrelentingly grim and talky exercise that chronicles the reunion of Charlotte (Candy Buckley), a famed concert pianist and her daughter Eva (Rebecca Henderson) after a seven-year absence. Charlotte always put career first and Eva, a budding author and pianist, has lived in her mother’s considerable shadow for years. She currently lives in a comfortable but loveless marriage with Victor (Olek Krupa) while caring for her invalid sister, Helena (Merritt Janson). A tense undercurrent lies just beneath Charlotte and Eva’s initial conversations and the reunion soon dissolves into a shouting match of bitter recriminations recalling past slights and transgressions between the two women.
With Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann in the film roles and the legendary camerawork of Sven Nykvist capturing every nuance between mother and daughter, Bergman’s penetrating expose of mother/daughter familial bonds ripped asunder was tense and memorable. For the stage adaptation, director Robert Woodruff attempts a filmic presentation utilizing some very effective projections by designer Peter Nigrini. A key sequence – one of the best from the film – has Charlotte playing the same Chopin prelude that her daughter has just performed for her. Woodruff has the women’s faces enlarged on an upstage screen so that very subtle and silent expressions of envy, critical distain and insecurity are in full view. This process is continued throughout the play and adds visual interest especially during several long monologues.
As Charlotte, it’s nice to see Ms. Buckley in a dramatic role dialing down her natural comic exuberance. She has been seen more recently playing broad and dynamic women at Hartford TheaterWorks in “The Little Dog Laughed” and “God of Carnage”. Her Charlotte is a controlled, nearly robotic creature who plays effectively against Miss Henderson’s mousy and insecure Eva. Both actors also deserve credit for their piano skills which, thankfully, are not faked at Yale. Mr. Krupa makes for a quiet, compelling Viktor and Miss Janson is moving as the wheelchair-bound Helena.
Riccardo Hernandez has created a 3-D setting which supports Mr. Nigrini’s projections perfectly. Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting, Candice Donnelly’s costuming and Chad Raines’ sound all add to the director’s unique vision. Woodruff has achieved some impressive theatrical magic by creating this “stage motion picture” complete with supertitles explaining each of the play’s “movements”. But theatergoers may well ask why not just rent the DVD of “Autumn Sonata” instead of trekking to New Haven? It’s a valid question.
“Autumn Sonata” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through May 7. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.