By Wendy Rosenfield
for the Inquirer
It’s important to note that Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s staging of Ingmar Bergman’s films After the Rehearsal (1984) and Persona (1966), as reimagined by the acclaimed Dutch director Ivo Van Hove, relies solely on Bergman’s script as source material, and not his cinematic vision. He’s done it before, with variations on Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage.
It seems a perverse approach, but then again, it makes perfect sense; Bergman said exactly what he wanted to say on film. His words, however, in this setting, might reveal new angles, particularly since both works deal with life on and offstage.
After the Rehearsal doesn’t match Persona’s emotional impact. The former is a study of Hendrik Vogler, a director grappling with Strindberg, his dead actress lover Rachel and her alluring actress daughter Anna. It’s mostly straightforward, and the novel perspective Van Hove contributes to the piece lies in shifting the power dynamic between Vogler and his women.
Gijs Scholten van Aschat makes for a more virile Vogler than the film’s Erland Josephson, Marieke Heebink’s Rachel and Gaite Jansen’s Anna hold their heads high as contemporary women with confidence they lacked in the original. Bergman framed Rachel in beastly close-ups, a maudlin, ugly portrait. Here, in full view (Van Hove has Hendrik film Anna’s face and project it on a wall, but aside from highlighting her youth and beauty, it’s an unnecessary, distracting gesture), they’re charming, fighters who see right through Hendrik, desperately blasting dated, once-hip music, romancing a past version of himself.
Persona, a Bergman masterwork, examines the psychological breakdown of Elisabeth Vogler (Heebink), an actress who fell silent shortly after a performance of Electra and hasn’t spoken since, and the nurse, Alma (Jansen) tasked with caring for her. Of course, 40 years of discussions remain inconclusive on the question of whether or not this is actually Elisabeth’s or Alma’s breakdown, and Van Hove appears to pick a side, but more important, the second half of this diptych really belongs to Jan Versweyveld’s set. A raised grey concrete slab in a vast pool of water, surrounded by a creeping carpet of fog that matches their increasing confusion, the women’s island retreat takes on a new coldness and desperation.
Van Hove likes to work with classics, proven entities, but while his insights into Bergman’s scripts merit discussion, one wishes he’d taken them farther. The overlapping themes of these pieces--aging, theater, taboo sex, abortion, motherhood gone awry--copy more than they compliment one another.
Playing at: 23rd St. Armory, 22 S. 23rd St. Through Sat., Sept. 5. Tickets: $15 to $35. Information: 215-413-1318 or www.FringeArts.com.