the danish play by Sonja Mills, directed by Kelly Thornton, with Kate Hennig, Christine Brubaker, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Eric Goulem, Randi Helmers, Erika Hennebury and Bruce Hunter. Presented by Nightwood Theatre at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs to December 15, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $16-$30, Sunday pwyc. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Poet and resistance fighter agnete Ottosen was tough, unsentimental and remarkable. These same words could be used to describe The Danish Play, the terrific new play about her by her great-niece, Sonja Mills.Mills's moving epic examines Ottosen's quest for personal and national freedom. During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Ottosen (Kate Hennig) worked for an underground newspaper and helped smuggle Jews to Sweden. After being captured, she survived internment in two concentration camps, including gynecological experiments. Later, she bore a son, and bucked authority by refusing to name the father.
That's a lot of plot, the kind of espionage-y stuff that in the wrong hands could end up as dramatic dreck. But Mills puts Ottosen's struggles in the context of a warmly drawn circle of friends that includes businessman Mads (Bruce Hunter, whose brittle sarcasm's out of a Bergman film), shop owner Helga (a tightly pinched Randi Helmers) and conscientious shop worker Bente (Christine Brubaker).
Through these characters, Mills brings out themes of mothers, children and personal sacrifice, capturing in their words the spiky Nordic wit and drawing us closer to Ottosen's private and public dilemmas.
Director Kelly Thornton orchestrates the complicated time and mood shifts brilliantly. An inlaid screen is especially well used. The blurring of past and present makes for one of the best act-one closers I've ever seen.
The second act's more sprawling and problematic. It lacks focus. What links both acts, however, are the strong performances (only Dmitry Chepovetsky, with his contemporary cadences, feels out of place).
Hennig's Ottosen burns like a flame in the first act, and it's heartbreaking to see her nearly extinguished in the second, the living embodiment of the effects of war.
Easily one of the best plays of the year.