By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
So I go to my bookshelf to find Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and discover that I do indeed have a copy—but it's in Norwegian, a souvenir bought in a little shop in a little town high up in the mountains of Norway. A fat lot of good that will do me. Should I go to the bookstore? To the library? To Gutenberg.org? But no: I decide to see EgoPo's production of Gint (the Americanized title in Romulus Linney's adaptation) as if it were a new work, and just let this famous (but unread!) play reveal itself to me onstage.
What an excellent decision that was!
What was revealed onstage was an astonishing fable, a surreal parable, a theatrical tour de force. Director Lane Savadove imaginatively wrestled this rarely-produced bear of a play to the ground (the original runs five hours, this version less than half that), and he has elicited remarkable performances from a fine cast, bravely led by Sean Lally in the title role.
It begins in Appalachia, with a great harmonizing songfest as the assembled cast plays guitars and a ukulele, a tambourine, a harmonica and a drum. They will transform themselves into various characters, mostly vicious, as well as cats, lunatics in an asylum and a forest of talking trees.
Pete Gint is a swaggering country boy who is a "randy fool," raised by his Oldie Mama (Melanie Julian) to be a fantasist as they imagine a life of wealth and grandeur as an escape from their poverty. After seducing a local bride (Lee Minora) and then deserting her, Gint falls in love with Sally Vicks (Isa St. Clair), and then abandons her to go off on a serious of adventures. He descends into a hellish kingdom (ruled by Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) of razorback hogs played by Cindy Spitko, Sarah Schol, Johnny Smith and Ed Swidey, who then morph into characters after characters as Gint travels along on his metaphoric journey.
The journey is not just one of self-discovery but also an environmental cautionary tale, as if Al Gore had collaborated with Ibsen—two finger-shakers to be reckoned with.
The clever set designed by Dirk Durossette, and lit by Matt Sharp, provides first a wooden hut, a pool, a lawn, a graveyard, and, finally, a hill Gint climbs for the last sunrise.
EgoPo Classic Theater at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St. Through May 11. Tickets $22-35. Information: 267-273-1414 or egopo.org