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A CurtainUp Review
Little Eyolf

Grief makes ugly and vile.
--- Alfred Allmers, during the devastating confrontation between him and his wife after the death of their child Eyolf.
The opening of Little Eyolf marks the ninth in the twelve installments of the Century Center's invaluable Ibsen series. Like the previously done plays, this one perfectly fits the intimacy of the former club house's beautiful upstairs Ballroom which requires just a few props to evoke a Norwegian estate beside a fjord.

Little Eyolf, though not as widely known and revived as Hedda Gabler and The Doll's House, is as biting a portrait of a toxic marriage. Like those dramas it makes you understand why Ibsen was tagged as the Freud of modern drama and why his characters continue to resonate as if freshly minted. The story of the Allmers' smooth-on-the-surface marriage in which the lid is blown off years of bottled-up feelings is not unlike the most dramatic scene in the current film In the Bedroom.

Like George Tesman, Alfred Allmers has been deeply engrossed in a writing project, a book on human responsibility. But Alfred is more like Hedda than George in that his marriage to Rita is a trap, much like Hedda's. He married Rita as much for her fortune as her beauty, a fortune that at once enabled him to not only pursue his writing but to take care of his beloved half-sister Asta. Not that the marriage is without a strong sexual pull -- in fact, little Eyolf was crippled in infancy when they turned their back on him in a moment of passion and he fell off a table. Thus, while the marriage seems tranquil enough initially, the ripples of an impending storm are quickly evident.

Rita is possessive to the point of obsession which makes her dangerously jealous. She resents the time her husband spends in his study. When Alfred, restored by several months away from his gilded conjugal cage and in the mountains, announces that he will henceforth practice rather than write about human responsibility by devoting himself to his previously neglected little boy, Rita is equally jealous of the child. There's a lot of Hedda Gabler in Rita as well since her willfulness and possessiveness are more than likely the result of the sterility of her comfortable existence.

Alfred's announcement of his changed priorities, the visit from his sister Asta (whom Rita would also like out of the way) quickly reveal the suffocating elments in this marriage. Another visitor, the enigmatic Rat Wife (Ibsen's turnaround of the Pied Piper of Hamelin), paves the symbolic way for the tragedy to come.

Alfred's relationship with his sister adds yet another Freudian undercurrent, unacknowledged incestual yearnings, to the highly eventful two days. By the end of the play the Allmers' marriage has reached bottom, its continuation now cemented by duty rather than the illusion of love. Asta, with the help of the play's most emotionally sturdy character, Borghejm, escapes her brother's stifling affection.

As in previous plays in the series, Rolf Fjelde's translation lends clarity and accessibility. Director Steve Ramshur has trimmed the script to a well-paced two hours, with a single break between the first act and the two acts and has drawn strong performances from the six-member cast.

Duncan M. Rogers brings out all the depths of unspoken longings and despair in Alfred. Linda Marie Larson taps into the darkest currents of the dominating Rita, and convincingly shows her with her fires banked. Naomi Peters, while a bit tentative in the first act, grows impressively into the requirements of her later scenes. She is particularly moving when she seeks out her distraught brother and sews a mourning band on his hat and sleeve. Jonathan Press is endearing as the title character, without any of the mannerisms often seen in child actors. Gabriel Maxson, like Ms. Peters, grows into his part as her suitor and a man, who unlike Alfred, stands firmly on his own feet. He works at a positive endeavor, building roads, which is echoed by his desire to build a strong joyful relationship. The only somewhat misdirected role is that of Joyce Feurring, who as as the Rat Wife lacks the sinister, supernatural qualities called for by the character who essentially lures little Eyolf into his watery grave.

During the Allmers' knockdown-drag-down fight, Rita confronts Alfred with rejecting her sexually, saying "The champagne was there but you touched it not". The champagne of this stimulating production is there for you to enjoy through February 23rd and at a bargain-priced $15 a ticket, so don't let it be said that "you touched it not."

Ibsen at The Century Center
Hedda Gabler
Other Ibsen Productions
Hedda Gabler (Broadway)
A Doll's House (Broadway)
John Gabriel Borkman
Peer Gynt (London)
Peer Gynt (DC)
The Wild Duck
Speed Hedda
The Ibsen Museum: A Postcard from Norway (feature)

Written by Henrikk Ibsen
Translated by Rolf Fjelde
Directed by Steve Ramshur
Cast: (in order of appearance) Linda Marie Larson ( Rita Allmers), Naomi Peters (Asta Allmers), Duncan M. Rogers (Alfred Allmers), Jonathan Press (Eyolf), Joyce Feurring (Rat Wife), Gabriel Maxson (Borghejm)
Costume Design: Valerie Marcus
Lighting Design: Chris Brown

Vocal Coach: Grace Zandarski
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission
Century Center Ballroom Theatre, 111 East 15th Street (Union Square East/Irving Place) 212/ 982-6782
2/05/02-2/23/02; opening 2/10/02
Wed-Sat at 8pm, Sundays @3pm -- $25.
The remaining Ibsen plays in the series are: The Master Builder (Mar. 6-24), John Gabriel Borkman (April 9-28 and the twelvfth and final production, When We Dead Awaken in November
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on February 10th matinee performance.
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