Toneelgroep artistic director Ivo van Hove’s take on Bergman’s classic “theater” screenplays retains all of the rawness of and cruelty of Bergman’s films. In AFTER THE REHEARSAL, two actors (Marieke Heebink and Gaite Jansen) and a director (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) collide emotionally and sexually. In Persona, actress Elisabeth Vogler (Heebink) renounces speech in order to stop performing in her daily life, and her nurse (Jansen) gets sucked into her sickness. Van Hove’s performers find the emotional cores, and reveal to us characters who are unpredictable, barely holding on to the social roles they must play.
While REHEARSAL presents a fairly naturalistic, traditional staging—charmed by the incredible chemistry and precision of van Hove’s cast—the coldness and quietness of PERSONA is truly the theatrical triumph of this piece. Placidity and violence become major visual elements in Jan Versweyveld’s massive, almost operatic set design, with transitions between the gray box of the clinic to intense whiteness, even as placidity is revealed to be a social coping element, a bunker against explosive inner struggles, a major part of the role Elisabeth (Heebink) feels forced to play. The ensemble has wonderful chemistry. Heebink in particular is masterful, and the inevitable connection we draw between the dissolute Rachel in AFTER THE REHEARSAL and PERSONA’s almost regal Elisabeth, as both struggling against the same humanity, reveals the soul’s brutality and animalism. [23rd Street Armory, 22 S. 23rd] September 3-5, 2015; fringearts.com/after-the-rehearsal-persona.