Front Row Center – February 2019

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren


By Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Peter King

front row


This play was written by Ibsen in 1881, and first performed in Chicago in 1882, in a production by a Danish company on tour. The critics panned it, calling the play shocking and indecent. At the time, Ibsen’s honest depiction of the suffering caused by venereal disease, and such topics as incest and euthanasia, was considered immoral. What is interesting is that the tragedy explored by the play is caused not by flouting the norms of society, but actually by trying to follow them.

Peter King and a talented cast performed this powerful play extremely well. The pace was excellent, particularly in the opening expository scene. “Helene Alving” is the widow of Captain Alving, and meets with “Pastor Manders” to discuss the dedication ceremony for an orphanage she has created in her husband’s memory. We soon discover that her late husband was a drunkard and a lecher, and that her life with him was a torment.

Monnie King, who is on stage for almost the entire play, is totally believable as the forthright truth-telling Helene, while Roger Larson plays the Pastor as a master of hypocrisy. He probably believes that Helene did the right thing by staying with her husband, although it cost her happiness.

There is a young servant “Regina Engstrand” who is actually Captain Alving’s illegitimate daughter. He had seduced her mother many years ago when she was working in the house. To keep up appearances the carpenter “Jacob Engstrand” brings her up as his daughter. Johanna Labadie plays Regina with a suitably casual charm – she has no money and will take whatever society offers. Meanwhile Peter King is a rough diamond as Jacob, and he also reveals him as a cunning bargainer in the second act.

The ghost of the late Captain is shown in all its misery when Ken Yakiwchuk comes on stage as Helene’s son “Oswald.” In order to save him being corrupted by his father, Helene sent him away to Paris where he tried to become a painter. Now he has come home, suffering from what seems to be syphilis. It is implied that the disease was caused by the sins of his father. Ken gives an amazing performance as the bewildered and agonized prodigal son. At the end of the play, he begs his mother to help him die by giving him an overdose of morphine.

This masterly play was recently adapted by Richard Eyre for a London production. This is the version that Peter King used, and it feels remarkably modern. He and his cast gave us a completely professional performance. I also congratulate LLT for having the courage to choose such a difficult and controversial topic.

The set was simple and effective – I should specially mention the Rainwall effect designed by David Hutchinson. Margo Eberly was Stage Manager (welcome back, Margo!) and Geoff Long was her Assistant. Next up is a black comedy The Same Deep Water as Me, which opens on February 15.

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