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A CurtainUp Review
"When a shiftless daddy walks out you either drink and beat the child or do what we did - tell stories together."—Oldie Mama
Photo: EgoPo
EgoPo, a repertory company that stages classics, closes out its 2013-14 season of Ibsen with this production of Gint. In 2005, in the wake of devastating Hurricane Katrina, Artistic Director Lane Savadove brought EgoPo Classic Theater up to Philadelphia from New Orleans, an orphan of the storm. Welcomed by the Philadelphia theater community, they permanently relocated here in 2006, continuing their work and taking on and training local actors.

Gint is based on Peer Gynt, which Norway's great playwright wrote under the warm Italian sun in 1867, unbridled by considerations of stage performance. At least initially, he considered his wide-ranging dramatic poem something to be read, and hoped for book sales. He told a friend he didn't think it was for acting. But acted it has been, and acted plenty, both in Norway and the rest of the world.

Playwright Romulus Linney had a good instinct in transplanting Peer Gynt from the hall of the mountain king to the hills and hollers of rural Kentucky, moving Norwegian folklore into an Appalachia steeped in tall tales. He directed his adaptation's premiere at Theater for the New City in the East Village in 1998. . [Linney was the founding playwright of New York's Signature Theatre, which has just won the 2014 Tony Award for Regional Theater.]

In the adaptation, Pete Gint (Sean Lally), a wandering, faithless scallywag, nonetheless loves his Oldie Mama (Melanie Julian). Young Pete, who claims to have ridden a stag, proceeds to steal a bride from her wedding, beget a half boy-half razorback hog, and acquire and lose billions. A rambler through space and time, reality and unreality, at age 95, Pete encounters the devil on the road. If legend is to be believed, he lives to see 100. Behind the picaresque Peer Gynt story, part legend and part allegory, lies a rumination and pre-Freudian exploration of passions and the power of the subconscious.

Sean Lally is an ideal loose and pliant Pete, who's trying, but not too hard, to make something of himself as he squanders love and indulges his whims. Isa St. Clair brings clarity to her role as the faithful Sally Vicks (Ibsen's Solveig character). Paired here, St Clair and Lally, coincidentally were leads in Romeo and Juliet —in two different productions — that is. St. Clair was Juliet in a '13 Curio Theatre production, while Lally's Romeo appeared in the Lantern Theater's production in '12.

Under the direction of Lane Savadove, the strong Gint ensemble assumes all kinds of roles in various times, places, and mental states. There is no lollygagging: In addition to physical acting and lots of singing with good voices, the actors are charged with speedily dispatching and resetting cumbersome wooden boxes in various arrangements throughout the performance, while maintaining spot-on timing -which they do. The actors are game and versatile, and there's ample action, although the play's raunchier scenes are a bit coy.

The performance space in Christ Church Neighborhood House is unusually generous and deep, yet this far-reaching homespun tale transpires in close quarters. The stage platform, constructed with a fixed backdrop, is located right up front. Curiously for this type of traveling yarn, the vast space to the rear goes unutilized in a performance that might as well be taking place in a small black box theater. The lighting design, however, plays on the set in imaginative ways, helping to create an array of locales and moods.

Many songs are jobbed in to the project, ranging from Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" to The Mamas and The Papas' "California Dreaming." How wonderful it would be to someday have a consistent original Bluegrass songscape that might incorporate repurposed strains from Grieg's Peer Gynt tunes. In fact, with its assortment of incidental music, Gint seems like a somewhat incomplete sketch, even though it's a long play. It looks like it wants a lyricist, like a musical waiting to happen. But it is what it is, and EgoPo has tackled a difficult play, producing a well acted and lively adventure.

Gint by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Romulus Linney
Directed by Lane Savadove

Cast: Sean Lally, Melanie Julian, Isa St. Clair, Sarah Schol, Lee Minora, Cindy Spitko, Griffin Stanton-Amiesen, Johnny Smith, Ed Swidey
Scenic Design: Dirk Durosette
Lighting Design: Matt Sharp
Costume Design: Brian Strachan
Sound Design: David Cimetta
Musical Direction: Christopher Marlowe Roche
April 30- May 11, 2014
2 hours and 15 minutes with one 10 minute intermission
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 05/01/2014 performance. Christ Church Neighborhood House, North American St., Philadelphia
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