THE DANISH PLAY by Sonja Mills, directed by Kelly Thornton (Nightwood). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To March 17. $15-$32. 416-866-8666. See Continuing, page 70. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
While honouring the determination, bravery and pride of poet Agnete Ottosen and her fellow resistance fighters in Denmark during the second world war, Sonja Mills 's phenomenal The Danish Play also breaks your heart.
Darting between the 1940s and 1962, the play centres around Agnete ( Kate Hennig ), who begins her political journey as an outspoken ex-wife and ex-union leader. Wanting to support the Danish resistance movement, she cajoles lawyer Mads ( Bruce Hunter ), an underground-newspaper editor, to hire her.
As the war progresses, Agnete, Mads and friends Helga ( Randi Helmers ), Michael ( Clinton Walker ) and Bente ( Christine Brubaker ) lose their dignity and youthful vitality and must deal with many scars of war.
Early in the play, the characters vow to reunite every Christmas Eve for a toast. Most of these wonderful actors have also reunited for this remount, and their intimacy shows onstage. Director Kelly Thornton integrates them all into the action and makes each character's story rich; comic actor Hunter, for example, brings his wry, dry wit to Mads.
But it's Hennig who guides the audience's emotional journey. We feel optimistic when she laughs and nauseous with fear when she trembles before Nazi torturers. Her powerful recitation of a poem about women's capabilities demonstrates why the Nazis wanted to eradicate free expression through arts and culture. Ultimately, we follow her into total despair.
Sometimes, wartime and post-war scenes take place on the same set. The production team efficiently differentiates time periods through subtle costume changes or by altering items on a rotating shelf.
The very survival of Agnete's story and its theatrical rebirth reminds us that resistance is never in vain.