Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ibsen's "League of Youth" is a strange hybrid

The League of Youth (Michael Brunk)
The League of Youth
Through July 29, 2018

Theatre9/12's production of Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play, The League of Youth, is a strangely hybrid affair. Hatcher's adaptation was done in 2017 and while Ibsen's work is said to be his only comedy, it is essentially a farce - not necessarily a comedy. Sometimes "farce" is not funny. In this case, it skewers politicians and small towns and, since it was written in the mid-1800s when women were either married or servants or nuns, it skewers that state of affairs, too.

On a Fourth of July picnic, a newcomer to a small town, Stensgaard (Tom Ryan), decides their rituals and traditions are stodgy and he challenges the town by announcing a new political party called “The League of Youth.” He claims he can stop the corruption and it's time for a new generation to take over.

He's quickly informed that his goal of becoming the town's highest politician has a requirement - he must "own property." Since the vote is that night, he has to be married - or at least engaged - by nightfall. While the youth of the town meet elsewhere and someone else writes his manifesto, he pursues the marriageable women in town with property rights. 

Hatcher has either translated some telling lines or made them up to sound Trump-like: Stensgaard says things like, “Don’t think about my words, they are not me.” and "A politician only resigns when he is under indictment.” 

Of course the other townspeople don't look great. There's the biggest landowner, Brattsberg (Michael Ramquist), who is a bully, the current lead politician, Lundestad (Robert Alan Barnett) who's a biddable fool, the striving female business-owner, Mrs. Monson (Rachel D. Pate), who presents as very honorable and hard-working and is revealed to be an illegal schemer.

One might think about the youth "movement" we're seeing in this country like the young people from Parkland, FL. But their honor and energy are credits to our country and nothing like what Stensgaard intends his League to be about.

There are some solid performances from the large cast. It's also a bit awkwardly set "in the round" which then mandates some oddly multi-directional speechifying. Sometimes it's clear that it's to an unseen crowd, but other times it's more clearly just a device to get actors to play to the "whole circle" and therefore a bit too stagey and act-y.

If a comedy is declared a comedy because the "bad guy" gets his desserts in the end, then this is a comedy. There are certainly some laughs in the lines, too. But it's a little hard to know what Ibsen "meant" by his play at the end, and what we're to walk away thinking.

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