Interface (Peer/Gynt) | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Interface (Peer/Gynt) 

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Interface (Peer/Gynt), Chicago Actors Ensemble.

In an intriguing transformation, Rick Helweg has reduced Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play, from almost three hours to 105 minutes and from a cast of 50 to 2. But he preserves the idea of live accompaniment (Ibsen asked Grieg to provide the original incidental music) with a warm folk-rock score by Doug Hatten.

Even more fascinating, Helweg has smoothly interpolated excerpts from Camus' The Stranger, A Happy Death, and The Myth of Sisyphus. It makes bold sense to fuse these uncompromising writers. Like Camus' antihero Meursault (whose nihilism is also unleashed by his mother's death), Ibsen's lying, solipsistic Peer--a folk legend gone bad--cuts himself off from humanity. His crime and greed enshrine the evil motto of the Trolls: "To thyself thou art enough." He betrays, enslaves, and murders his fellow humans until his soul is worth no more than a button hook (here it's a floppy disk). With bitter precision he exclaims, "How dearly we pay for our birth with our lives!"

Rabid, rushing about until the inevitable anguish sets in, David "Spike" Thibodeaux makes a pile-driving Peer, his megalomaniacal energy a crude camouflage for Peer's refusal to look within. Donning multiple costumes and using masks and puppets, Martha Donovan brings a disarming directness to, among others, Peer's mother and his sweetheart. Helweg's adaptation concentrates the action into elemental conflicts; the pageantry isn't missed, and much of Ibsen's immediacy is preserved, even heightened by Camus' crispness. Helweg's hybrid yields a very sturdy story.

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