By: Paulanne Simmons
When Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage came out in 1973, first as a Swedish television series and then as a film with Erland Josephson as Johan, the unfaithful husband, and Liv Ullmann as Marianne, the betrayed wife, Bergman’s jaundiced view of marriage created quite a stir. Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation of the work, with a script by Emily Mann, is once again getting lots of attention, but for very different reasons.
Van Hove, who is renowned or reviled for his radical re-imagining of iconic plays, has reworked the story of a failed marriage and reconfigured New York Theatre Workshop so that members of the audience experience the unfolding of the story very differently. The audience is divided into three groups, given bands of three different colors to wear around their wrists and invited into one of three mini-theaters.
In each theater various scenes play out simultaneously. A glass partitions allows the audience to observe action from the other scenes when it overflows into a communal space in the middle. At the same time, snippets of conversation, music and sound effects from the three scenes intrude on each other. This is sometimes fascinating, often distracting.
After each scene the audience moves on to the next one, until everyone has watched the various steps in the dissolution of Johan and Marianne’s marriage, although not in the same order. Then there is a 30-minute intermission while the theater is once again rearranged into one huge stage surrounded by the audience.
Now the three couples that are really one couple all appear onstage and enact the divorce scene in which the three Johans and Mariannes not only get those vital papers signed but also make love (thankfully offstage) and have a no-holds-barred fight which ends in one couple rolling around on the floor and pummeling each other for so long one fears a less than healthy ending. Finally, the last man standing, one of the drunken Johans, makes his exit.
There are two more anti-climactic scenes. One of the Mariannes has a long conversation with her mother about her parents’ marriage. In the end, the stage is occupied by only one of the Johans and Mariannes, reunited at last, but on disarmingly new terms. The couple’s three-and-a-half-hour ordeal is over.
For some, van Hove’s production will be enlightening and enriching. For others, it will be self-indulgent claptrap. The truth probably lies somewhere in-between.
This Scenes of a Marriage does take Bergman’s original story to a new and interesting place. If nothing else, van Hove is intellectually stimulating. But the production probably says a lot more about van Hove than it does about Bergman or his work.
There is some fine acting in Scenes from a Marriage. But it is unlikely anyone will really come to see Tina Benko, Susannah Flood or Roslyn Ruff play Marrianne, or Arliss Howard, Alex Hurt or Dallas Roberts play Johan. This production is all about van Hove’s direction, and to a lesser extent, Jan Versweyveld’s production design.
Perhaps it should be about all those techies doing the lifting, pushing and pulling, who are supporting van Hove’s flights of fancy.
Scenes from a Marriage ***
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street
Through Oct. 19, 2014