Written by Michael Bradley
Directed by Chris Goodrich
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
It is a difficult and a brave undertaking to choose to stage Henrik’s Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.” The Classic Stage Company recently accepted the challenge with a sparse two-hour (with no intermission) version in June of 2016. It becomes more difficult when one attempts to overlay the complex script with a new narrative – the quest of an LGBTQ Peer Gynt (played with a defiant innocence by Taylor Turner) for his true identity “despite isolation, fear, and confusion.” Playwright Michael Bradley and director Chris Goodrich have chosen to undertake this additional challenge in Mr. Bradley’s retelling of Ibsen’s classic entitled “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” which recently completed its run at FringeNYC 2016.
Michael Bradley’s retelling is a lean and mean fantasy-driven machine that captures the heart of Ibsen’s play-in-verse and – with the help of an outstanding cast – makes room for Peer’s particular search for his true sexual status amidst a plethora of naysayers and inhospitable oppugnants. There is the Troll King (played with a crusty cruelty by Austin Jennings Boykin) and there are the Trolls (Corinne Britti, Nicholas Cocchetto, and Eddie Carroll). And there is Peer’s mother Aase (played with an oppressive overprotectiveness by Molly Kelleher) perhaps his most vocal opponent despite her claims of love. Aslak (played with a macho hetero-mania by Nicholas Cocchetto) appears here not as a blacksmith but a bar room bully bent on beating down Peer’s nascent sexual status.
And there are new opponents, “The Council of Purity,” that suggests to Peer that reparative therapy (conversion therapy) is his path to wholeness and peace of mind. This anachronistic procedure presents a bit of a time warp and reminds the audience this retelling is not confined by neither space nor time conventions. And there is Peer’s most consistent advocate Solveig (played with a faithful vigilance by Geovanny Fischetti) whose unconditional love for Peer also transcends time.
Like the Peer Gynt of Ibsen’s classic, Mr. Bradley’s Peer is an illusory dreamer (his mother scorns him for his vivid imagination) and the audience is never certain whether the young Gynt is on a “real” journey or part of a nonconscious dreamscape inhabited by a variety of absurd characters. Ibsen’s Boyg (played with a salacious and wistful warlock-like demeanor by Scott Lilly) – a voice in the darkness – is a character in Mr. Bradley’s retelling who seems to counterpoint Peer’s persistent search for the answer to the question “Who am I” and the plaintive affirmation “Let me Live.”
Geovanny Fischetti’s choreography at the beginning of Peer’s journey is stunning and utilizes fully the craft of the entire cast. One wishes for more of his work throughout the play. Michael Block and Chris Goodrich’s sparse set is serviceable and clean as is John Cuff’s appropriately minimal lighting. Marc Giguere’s original music is pertinent to the structure of the piece. Devon James’s costumes – though efficacious – could often be more daring and scurrilous. Mr. Goodrich’s efficient direction could be tighter at times (it is at intervals uneven) but overall serves the script with evidentiary warmth and support. As the project moves forward, Mr. Bradley might consider shortening some scenes (the Troll scene, for example) and giving others the added grace of additional choreographed movement.
There are obvious and not so obvious references to musical theatre and popular music which are better left to the audience to discover and enjoy and these neither add not detract from the overall effect of the script. It must be remembered that Peer Gynt is the troubled son of a peasant farmer with grandiose desires to be an emperor. In Mr. Bradley’s brave retelling, Peer is also a troubled youth yearning for love, attempting to understand Solveig’s faith, and reaching for a hope that will transcend the bonds of time. It is not until the end of “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” that the audience discovers the nature of Peer’s illusory dreaming and where his “home” is. Whether this discovery is cathartic or shocking will be a decision only the audience member can make.
Mr. Bradley is to be commended for enlivening an old story with a fresh narrative and one looks forward to the next step in this important recounting of an engaging “illusory dream.”