The Last Supper

January 22 - February 1, 2004
The Club
Thursday - Saturday 10:00pm
Sunday 5:30pm

playwright: Lars Norén
translated by Marita Lindholm Gochman
director Zishan Ugurlu
music and sound design Paul Bothén
costume design Kimberley Matela
light & set design Jeremy Morris
photos & film sequences Brian Dilg
cast Raïna von Waldenburg, Tullan Holmqvist, Dan Illian*, Olle Agélii
musicians Jesper Lundaal, Pete Drungle, Marie Howells, Dasha Koltunyuk

*courtesy of Actor's Equity Association

The American premiere of LAST SUPPER by Lars Norén, who is widely regarded as Sweden's Eugene O'Neill, will be the debut production of International Theater of New York Actors Without Borders-ITONY, a new resident company of La MaMa headed by Zishan Ugurlu, a member of La MaMa's Great Jones Repertory. The troupe's name is an acronymic dedication to the Gengi Ito (1946-2001), the late beloved La MaMa musician and composer. The production is directed by Ugurlu and translated by Marita Lindholm-Gochman, who is the principal translator of Norén's work into English.

Norén is the Scandinavian playwright most-performed in the world, although his plays, even the well-known "Night is the Mother of Day," are undiscovered by most Americans. There is currently a proliferation of theatres producing Norén's work in Europe. The NY Theatre Wire (Glenn Loney) has called Lars Norén "the only living Swedish playwright who can be compared with the great August Strindberg….an important modern dramatist whose plays should be shown in America." Speaking at the Scandinavia On Stage conference in New York in April, 2001, Danish theater critic Monna Dithmer reflected, "We Scandinavians love him for his sublime spanking and sardonic scrutiny of bourgeois domestic hell."

ITONY is planning a European tour with this play, with productions already scheduled at the City Theatres (Stadsteatern) in Göteborg and Stockholm, Sweden and more planned for Istanbul and Ankara (the director's home country is Turkey).

LAST SUPPER opened in 1985 with a successful run at The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm in 1985, directed by Christian Tomner and starring Erland Josephson, Lena Olin, Mathias Henrikson and Helena Brodin. It is a powerful, voyeuristic and painfully intimate view of two brothers' crumbling marriages in the evening after their mother's funeral. John is a psychologist with a cruel streak. His wife, Charlotte, is an alcoholic who yearns for her husband's love more than anything else. She has surprised him by inviting his estranged brother, Alan, and Alan's unfaithful wife, Monica, to stay the night following the cremation. The mother's ashes are in an urn on the coffee table and there is a palpable sense of imbalance in the house. John has left the phone off the hook to console Nina, his troubled eleven year-old daughter from a previous marriage, whose mother is out carousing and has left the girl home alone. The phone line between them is open, but what the girl will hear is the dissolving of civil conversation and the ruthless playing out of sadomasochistic psychological games as drinks are refilled and two marriages spin out of control.

For this production, La MaMa will reverse the seating in its second-floor Club. The audience is usually seated around small tables on the floor with a proscenium stage in front and with wings extending out along each side. John's and Charlotte's swanky living room will be on the floor surrounded by the audience, who will be seated on risers on what used to be the stage, creating a voyeuristic and almost painfully intimate view of the play.

Video/film maker Brian Dilg has created moving images of the characters' dreams and unconscious, which will be projected in various ways as the play unfolds. Music by Paul Bothén, who has composed numerous films, plays and symphonies in Sweden, will accompany the play. The score will be performed live by Jesper Lundaahl (trumpet), Pete Drungle (percussion and electronics), Marie Howells (cello) and Dasha Koltunyuk (violin and voice of John's 11-year old daughter, Nina). The musicians will be placed above the entrance.

The actors are Olle Agélii (John), Tullan Holmqvist (Monica), Dan Illian (Alan) and Raïna von Waldenburg (Charlotte). Set and lighting design are by Jeremy Morris. Costume design is by Kimberly Matela.

Director Zishan Ugurlu, while known for her performances in such roles as Helen in "The Trojan Women" (directed by Andrei Serban, composed by Elizabeth Swados), admits to being fascinated with Strindberg and Ibsen. She explains, "Lars Norén is the best living writer telling about the bourgeois domestic hell. He verbalizes in a very edgy way our inner darkness." She explains that she loves his writing because it allows one to create a relationship between audiences and actors that is so intimate that it's like watching a peep show--you feel as if you shouldn't be there. Ugurlu feels that Norén's characters are trapped in houses, but are almost homeless in that they have no where to go. She says, "Home is a peaceful mind." The concept of her setting is to use film to juxtapose the oppressiveness of their situation with the peace of the outside, where there is nature and you can breathe.

She also takes a lesson from Marc Bloch, a French philosopher, who said, "Contemporary civilization differs in one particularly distinctive feature from those which precede it: speed. The change has come about within a generation." Ugurlu intends to heighten the light and darkness of the play by speeding it up, using live music to accelerate the rhythm of the play and break it out of the drawing room pace of Scandinavian drama which precedes it. The result, she says, will be "overlapping, speedy, sexy and funny."

Ms. Ugurlu is a Turkish-born actor, teacher and director. As a performer, she has appeared in numerous productions of La MaMa's Great Jones Repertory. She is on the faculty of Trinity College, Hartford, CT, teaching acting and vocal technique. She has previously directed "Until the Next Whirl" at La MaMa, "The Court of Fehim Pasha" at Theater of the Riverside Church, and two plays by Tom Soper, "Water Shed" at La MaMa and "Serious At All" at the Theater Row Theater. She will next stage Lorca's "Blood Wedding" set in Afghanistan at Trinity College. After this, she plans to direct more Scandinavian plays.

This production is supported in part by a grant from the Swedish Consulate in New York.

Curtain Up Review
The Last Supper
January 25, 2004
by Elyse Sommer

Swedish playwright Lars Norén, who is widely produced in the Scandinavian world but very rarely in this country, and then only fleetingly. No wonder the American premiere of The Last Supper attracted an overflow crowd to La MaMa's Upstairs Club this Sunday.

The brightly lit, attractively furnished (courtesy of Ikea) living room of Charlotte and her psychiatrist husband John's apartment looks like a place where people could spend a pleasant, "normal" evening. But from the first of the ninety minutes we spend with this couple (Raina von Waidensberg, Olle Agélli, his estranged older brother Alan (Dan Illian) and his wife Monica (Tullan Holmqvist), we know that normalcy is something that has and will continue to elude this foursome.

John may not be as crazy as some of his patients, but neither is he a role model for mental health, especially in his relationship with Charlotte (his third wife) and his children. Charlotte's continued pleas for love in the face of John's emotional and sexual withdrawal, indicates that her idea of normal is also elastic. As for the second couple in Mr. Norén's ninety-minute version of games incompatible couples play, their psyches are no stronger and their relationship, if anything, even worse. It seems that Alan isn't the the self-assured business tycoon he appears to be, but a man on the verge of losing his job and his wife -- the timid, eager-to-please Monica about to leave him for a much young man whose appreciation of her (as opposed to Alan's disdainful putdowns).

The occasion which brings the brothers together is the funeral of their mother whose ashes in a silver teapot add to the aura of crumbling relationships -- sibling and parental as well as spousal. The emotional explosions that pile up relentlessly begin with John's anger at Charlotte for having invited Alan and Monica to spend the night. The brothers' differences range from Alan's snide disparagement of the apartment's furnishings to dredged up memories dating back to their childhood relationships with their parents (who seem to have been as unhappily married as their offspring).

To build up the tensions, John has been left off the hook as a means of staying in touch with Nina, his troubled eleven year-old daughter from a previous marriage, whose mother has left the girl home alone. Instead of going to actually be with the girl, he has made her oral witness to the sadomasochistic psychological games no child should know about -- and which for this child of chronic family dysfunction insures that this terrible pattern will be promulgated. As Nina is part of the proceedings, so the viewer's sense of being in this unhappy home is deepened by the re-configuration of the La Mama Club stage so that the audience surrounds the playing area.

All this is bound to bring to mind memories of Strindberg's Dance of Death and Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and indeed I overheard several comments remarking on similarities to those plays as I left the theater. While The Last Supper can't escape this derivative feeling, Mr. Noren's script, smoothly translated by Marita Lindholm Gochman, has some trenchant dialogue (my favorite line was Monica's describing her attraction to her young lover: . . ."it was his thumbs. . .I saw his thumbs. . .they looked so intelligent"). The play has been given a fine staging by Zishan Ugurlu. The four actors are excellent, each shifting smoothly from calm civility to uncontrolled emotion. The moody background music by the four musicians tucked into a corner at the top of one of the riser seating section adds to the atmosphere.

The Last Supper can be seen for a movie-priced ticket and even the 10pm performances will have you out well before midnight. Keep in mind though that La MaMa's busy schedule rarely affords extensions so you have only until February 1st to see this.


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