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"The Master Builder" at The Irish Repertory Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The Master Builder
By Henrik Ibsen
(Ibsen Bio)
Adapted by Frank McGuiness
The Irish Repertory Theatre
NY, NY 10011

James Naughton as Halvard Solness, Charlotte Parry as Hilde,
Kristin Griffith as Aline Solness, Herb Foster as Knut Brovik,
Daniel Talbott as Ragnar Brovik, Letitia Lange as Kaja,
Doug Stender as Dr. Herdel, Janice M. Brandine as Townsperson

Artistic Director: Charlotte Moore
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
General Manager: Jeffrey Chrzczon
Set Design: Eugene Lee
Costume Design: Linda Fisher
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: Zachary Williamson
Hair and Wig Design: Robert-Charles Vallance
Props Master: Rich Murray
Asst. Director: Helena Gleissner
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Asst. Stage Manager: Janice M. Brandine
Press: Shirley Herz Associates
Casting: Deborah Brown
Producing Director: Ciarán O’Reilly

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 22, 2008

Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder is a study in unfulfilled ambition and repressed grief. It’s also a study in manipulative passion, career paranoia, and an impetuous leap of faith. Ibsen’s The Master Builder has, as its central character, Halvard Solness (James Naughton), an architect in his prime, who has suppressed the ambitions of his associate, Knut Brovik (Herb Foster), and now Brovik’s son (Ragnar Brovik), a talented young designer. Solness flirts with Ragnar’s object of desire, Kaja (Letitia Lange), in order to keep Kaja employed in his office, and thus to keep Ragnar under his fearful eye, as well. Fearful, because Solness fears the power of youth, its capacity to steal his commissions and end his career, before his artistic dreams are fully realized.

Solness sees himself as the penultimate artist, who can design homes with spires that rise to the sky, like cathedrals with spiritual meaning. Solness has a fear of heights, but, ten years ago, he climbed a steeple and hung a wreath on a town church, inspiring the devotion of a 13 year-old girl, Hilde, whom he kissed and promised a palace, when she grew up. Now, Hilde returns, on the 10th anniversary of the hanging of the wreath, in a film of gleaming smoke, to claim her palace and the hero of her dreams. Solness, however, is married (in stale ritual) to Aline (Kristin Griffith), who harbors a dark sadness, relating to the loss of infant twin sons. The Solness home was designed with empty nurseries, as is the new, more majestic home they are planning to inhabit. When Hilde arrives, she is allowed to sleep in a quiet, lifeless nursery, the antithesis to her dynamism and endearing demeanor. Solness seems to have one true bond, with Dr. Herdel (Doug Stender), who sees and understands his imperfections and fallibility.

James Naughton, a renowned and charismatic actor (Chicago, City of Angels), unfortunately seemed gravely miscast. Ibsen builds plays for riveting presence and thought-provoking dialogue. Solness is the “Master Builder”, the featured character of this oeuvre. Naughton, for whatever reason, seemed distracted and mumbled - stumbled on several lines. He was not seamlessly mesmerizing, but, at times, he broke through his internalized interpretation and drew the audience in with vigor and vitality. His expression of the unfeeling relationship with Aline and the manipulation of Ragnar were convincing, but he seemed overpowered and devoured by Ms. Parry, a Hilde on hormones. Ms. Parry played Hilde as immature and unbridled. She tore through the small stage like a tornado, but the requisite sparks did not fly.

Kristin Griffith was a subdued Aline, consumed with “duty”, a pilgrim in black. The weight of her grief was made heavier with guilt, as her story unfolded. Daniel Talbott and Herb Foster, as the younger and elder Broviks, carried their roles of suppressed ambition quite well. Letitia Lange, as Kaja, seemed underdeveloped, and, in her ethereal presence, seemed suited to a future Hilde, in another production. Doug Stender, as Dr. Herdel, added strength to the dynamics. Eugene Lee is to be commended on the set design, which included rich oak furniture, an array of antique cases and bureaus. Linda Fisher’s costumes for Hilde, a lady of small means, were fascinating, such as in hem-length buttons that shortened the skirt in retro styling. Hilde’s tattered arrival dazzled in Michael Gottlieb’s lighting, but that ethereal ambiance soon dissipated. Ciarán O’Reilly directed Frank McGuiness’ pedantic adaptation with ponderous stuffiness. Check this link to see current and future productions at The Irish Repertory Theatre.

Kristin Griffith, James Naughton, and Letitia Lange
in "The Master Builder"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

James Naughton and Charlotte Parry
in "The Master Builder"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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