Autumn Sonata -- A Study in Human Relations

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

It would be very easy – if complicating – to discuss in detail the relationships between music and Autumn Sonata by Ingmar Bergman now on the stage at the Yale Repertory Theater. If you wish, you can indulge yourself, but suffice it to say that despite the many intentional musical references and accompaniments, the play stands on its own in a substantial presentation directed by Robert Woodruff.

This U.S. premiere of Bergman’s play based on a script – the film, released in 1978, and the translator claims never to have seen it -- in a literal translation by Wendy Weckwerth is a study of relationships between mothers and daughters. Charlotte (played by the estimable Candy Buckley) is a celebrated classical pianist whose career has come at the expense of her family relationships. After a seven year separation, she attempts to reconcile  with her daughter, Eva (sharply drawn by Rebecca Henderson). They come together in Eva’s home, a parsonage presided over by Eva’s husband Viktor (the solid Olek Krupa) and during one evening they confront their darkest feelings and resentments. Rounding out the cast is Helena (Merritt Jansen) Charlotte’s severely handicapped daughter whom Eva, her sister, has taken in from a nursing home.

Both Charlotte and Eva have great hopes for their reunion but as the play progresses the resentments surface and the two clash in a lacerating evening that reveals what has led them to their present attitudes.

Charlotte has devoted her life to her career and her art and Eva who saw her mother almost as a goddess, feels that she has fallen short of expectations not only in her own musical talents but also in the glamorous vision she has of her mother. She recalls sharply her 14th year when she viewed herself as ungainly, with her hair cut short and wearing dental braces; obviously not living up to the vision she believes her mother expects.

It is clear that Charlotte lavishes much more attention on her career that requires her to travel all over and appear only occasionally in the family home. Apparently Eva feels she is neglected or at best given second place in her mother’s attention.

In the background is the severely handicapped Helena who haunts the setting like a ghost and at one point evokes a frightening dream in Charlotte.

Director Robert Woodruff has a simple setting that allows the actors to spread out over the stage and present their characters fully. He  uses many cinematic techniques particularly camera close-ups of people and scenes. Some may object to this cinematic technique – the Rep used it extensively in another of their productions – because it seems to take attention away from the actor on the stage. It does, however, allow for several interesting montages that illustrate some of the situations.

The play is filled with both classical and contemporary music – the original music is by Michael Attias – and in fact one scene allows for Eva and Charlotte to present  their individual interpretations of a Chopin prelude. 

Autumn Sonata is a riveting hour and 45 minutes of exploration of human relations during which you learn much about Charlotte’s and Eva’s needs, hopes and losses in which you are completely held  by the talented performers and totally believe in the roles they have assumed.

Autumn Sonata is at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, in New Haven through May 7.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 203-432-1234.

This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers March 31, 2011 and online at


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