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A CurtainUp Review

The Last Supper

Please don't start anything now. . .please. I can't take it. Can't we be a little normal?
Raïna von Waldenburg, Olle Agélii, Tullan Holmqvist, and Dan Illian.
(Photo: Brian Dilg)
Swedish playwright Lars Norén, who is widely produced in the Scandinavian world but very rarely in this country, and then only fleetingly. No wonder the American premiere of The Last Supper attracted an overflow crowd to La MaMa's Upstairs Club this Sunday.

The brightly lit, attractively furnished (courtesy of Ikea) living room of Charlotte and her psychiatrist husband John's apartment looks like a place where people could spend a pleasant, "normal" evening. But from the first of the ninety minutes we spend with this couple (Raina von Waidensberg, Olle Agélli, his estranged older brother Alan (Dan Illian) and his wife Monica (Tullan Holmqvist), we know that normalcy is something that has and will continue to elude this foursome.

John may not be as crazy as some of his patients, but neither is he a role model for mental health, especially in his relationship with Charlotte (his third wife) and his children. Charlotte's continued pleas for love in the face of John's emotional and sexual withdrawal, indicates that her idea of normal is also elastic. As for the second couple in Mr. Norén's ninety-minute version of games incompatible couples play, their psyches are no stronger and their relationship, if anything, even worse. It seems that Alan isn't the the self-assured business tycoon he appears to be, but a man on the verge of losing his job and his wife -- the timid, eager-to-please Monica about to leave him for a much young man whose appreciation of her (as opposed to Alan's disdainful putdowns).

The occasion which brings the brothers together is the funeral of their mother whose ashes in a silver teapot add to the aura of crumbling relationships -- sibling and parental as well as spousal. The emotional explosions that pile up relentlessly begin with John's anger at Charlotte for having invited Alan and Monica to spend the night. The brothers' differences range from Alan's snide disparagement of the apartment's furnishings to dredged up memories dating back to their childhood relationships with their parents (who seem to have been as unhappily married as their offspring).

To build up the tensions, John has been left off the hook as a means of staying in touch with Nina, his troubled eleven year-old daughter from a previous marriage, whose mother has left the girl home alone. Instead of going to actually be with the girl, he has made her oral witness to the sadomasochistic psychological games no child should know about -- and which for this child of chronic family dysfunction insures that this terrible pattern will be promulgated. As Nina is part of the proceedings, so the viewer's sense of being in this unhappy home is deepened by the re-configuration of the La Mama Club stage so that the audience surrounds the playing area.

All this is bound to bring to mind memories of Strindberg's Dance of Death and Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and indeed I overheard several comments remarking on similarities to those plays as I left the theater. While The Last Supper can't escape this derivative feeling, Mr. Noren's script, smoothly translated by Marita Lindholm Gochman, has some trenchant dialogue (my favorite line was Monica's describing her attraction to her young lover: . . ."it was his thumbs. . .I saw his thumbs. . .they looked so intelligent"). The play has been given a fine staging by Zishan Ugurlu. The four actors are excellent, each shifting smoothly from calm civility to uncontrolled emotion. The moody background music by the four musicians tucked into a corner at the top of one of the riser seating section adds to the atmosphere.

The Last Supper can be seen for a movie-priced ticket and even the 10pm performances will have you out well before midnight. Keep in mind though that La MaMa's busy schedule rarely affords extensions so you have only until February 1st to see this.

Last Supper
Written by Lars Norén
Translated by Marita Lindholm-Gochman
Directed by Zishan Ugurlu
Cast: Olle Agelli, Raina von Waldenburg, Dan Illian, Tullan Holmqvist
Set and lighting:Jeremy Morris
Costume Design: Kimberly Matela
Music and Sound Design: Paul Bothén
Photo and film sequences: Brian Dilg
Musicians: Jasper Lundhaal (trumpet, vibraphone, bow), Peter Drungle (Vibraphone, bow) Mari Howells (cello), Dasha Koltunyuk (violin)
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
New York Actors Without Borders-ITONY at La MaMa (The Club), East 4th Street 212-475-7710
1/22/04 to 2/01/04
Thu - Sat at 10pm; Sun at 5:30pm --$15; $12 members/tdf
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on Jan. 25th performance

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