Peer Gynt is a strange play. I remember trying to read it after loving the aggressive realism of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Doll’s House and thinking “what the hell is this?” Based on Norwegian folk tales, the play blends realistic satire, symbolic dream sequences, and surreal travel narrative. It’s considered a masterwork of modernism. Like Finnegan’s Wake.
Romulus Linney’s GINT, now in an engaging staging by EgoPo Classic Theater, does an admirable job of translating this modernist classic for contemporary audiences. Linney reworks the story so it seems to have been lifted straight from the annals of American folklore. Peter Gint (Sean Lally) is now an Appalachian braggart; the trolls of the mountains are southern hogs; there’s a rags to riches to rags story set by a Hollywood pool; we meet the devil (Sarah Schol) in a box train. We might be watching a contemporary piece grounded in true Americana.
Under Lane Savadove’s direction, this approach brings a vibrant freshness to Ibsen’s play. Lally puts on a commanding performance in the title role, shifting from Appalachian raconteur to soulless SoCal mogul with unflagging energy. His is a tough job: Ibsen’s text famously compares Peer Gynt to an onion, layers and layers of aborted identities with no heart at the core. Lally seizes on this, delighting in GINT’s unreflective self-invention.
He is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, whose energy drives the piece from one peculiar vignette to the next. Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as the hog-king and Cindy Spitko as his porcine temptress daughter are especially memorable, but each actor thrives in the spotlight and in chorus.
The tempo is quick. Brief song interludes provide new entertainment and seamless segues (Christopher Marlowe Roche, music director; David Cimetta, sound design). The two scene hands (Zach Taylor and Zulfiya Asquino) melt into the action, transforming Dirk Durosette’s simple set from mountain to dream forest to pool.
Linney’s GINT is just as opaque as Ibsen’s text, but it has an unexpected coherence and life. EgoPo’s season of Ibsen finishes with a transporting success. [Christ Church Neigborhood House, 20 N. American Street] April 30-May 11, 2014, egopo.org.