Columbus discovers Ibsen

GYNTY by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Theatre Columbus, directed by Leah Cherniak, with Emma Campbell, Oliver Dennis, David Jansen, Marcel.

GYNTY by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Theatre Columbus, directed by Leah Cherniak, with Emma Campbell, Oliver Dennis, David Jansen, Marcel Jeannin and Martha Ross. Presented by Theatre Columbus in association with Factory at the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to March 31, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc-$18. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN

with all the fine acting work in Gynty — Theatre Columbus’s “reinvention”of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt — it’s almost unnecessary to take us into the radio studio to provide a frame for the story.We’re witnessing, in this frame, a company’s final radio-drama broadcast, during which the five actors provide narration and sound effects for the far-ranging script.

The broadcast is a way into a difficult-to-stage piece — with 50-plus characters, including trolls, monkeys and sheep — that wanders from Norway to Africa, ship deck to mountaintop, home hearth to madhouse. I’d be content, though, just seeing it as story theatre, since the radio metaphor and the blur of reality that accompanies it — is it the actor who’s reacting? is it the character? — are only partly utilized.

But what a rich piece, full of philosophy and surreal moments, and so finely spun out by this cast. It’s far better, in fact, than the 1989 production at the Shaw Festival.

The trio of men — Marcel Jeannin, David Jansen and Oliver Dennis — play the rascally, poetic, tale-telling Peer at different points in his life. Jeannin is the weakest, for though he catches the energy and surface glitter of the self-centred Peer, he rarely suggests deeper if fleeting thoughts in the young braggart. Jansen and Dennis mine the character’s chameleon moods more effectively.

Martha Ross paints Ase, Peer’s mother, as a passionate and comic figure, quick to criticize her son but as fast to stand up to those who threaten him, touching in her death scene. Newcomer Emma Campbell is a delight, playing a whiny betrayed bride, a seductive and sensual Arabian and the good-hearted Solveig, Peer’s eventual saviour.

Director Leah Cherniak, assisted by another fine lighting design by Andrea Lundy and Kirk Elliott’s live music, provides a marvellous wash of emotional tones over the course of the three-hour show.

Cherniak neatly connects the company’s warm-hearted clowning to Ibsen’s philosophical look at the human condition, using the characters’ emotions as the bridge between the two.

Now, if we could just lose those radio mikes.

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