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Friday, May 10, 2013

In Context: The Master Builder

Katherine Borowitz, John Turturro, and Wrenn Schmidt. Photo by Graeme Mitchell.

Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder runs at BAM through Sunday, June 9. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

On the Blog


Article
"Kindred Spirits: Ibsen, Maeterlinck, and Freud"
Symbolism reigns in Ibsen, a fact that wasn't lost on a two turn-of-the-century intellectual giants.

Illustration
“John Turturro: The Mid-Eighties Hat Trick”
Nate Gelgud provides an illustrated look at the pre-Spike Lee, pre-Coen Brothers John Turturro.

Article
"A Sam Waterson-Inspired Tour of Brooklyn Architecture"
A tour of great Brooklyn buildings with Columbia professor Andrew Dolkart, inspired by a classic scene from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters.

Readings
"To Each His Own Hilde"
Read what early reviews had to say about The Master Builder's Hilde Wangel, at once a "victim of nymphomania" and a "healthy, buoyant creature of the mountains.


Around the Web


Video
BAM Trailer for The Master Builder (YouTube)
Get a taste of BAM's shadow-dappled take on The Master Builder. 

Video
On Set with Santo Loquasto (YouTube)
John Turturro isn't the only master builder featured in BAM's production.

Video
BAM Artist Talk: The Master Builder with John Turturro and Andrei Belgrader (YouTube)
Turturro and Belgrader discuss their time at Yale, the task of distilling Ibsen, and much more.

Article
“That Period Look, Ringlets and All" (The New York Times)
The Master Builder’s Wrenn Schmidt talks about playing Hilde Wangel, the perfect tattoo, and more.

Article
“Ibsen’s The Master Builder(The Guardian)
The master builder as Ibsen in disguise? Hilde as a Nietzschean übermensch? A critic looks for subtext.

Article
“10 Actresses to Watch in 2013 (IndieWire)
Boardwalk Empire’s Wrenn Schmidt, who plays Hilde in The Master Builder, made the cut.

Profile
“The Pack Rat Who Supplies the Scenic Illusion” (The New York Times)
A profile of the “inveterate hunter-gather” Santo Loquasto, set designer of The Master Builder. 

Video
A Town Hall with John Turturro (YouTube)
Turturro reflects on telling Michael Bay to blow his nose, being terrified of Endgame, pitching a sequel for “The Jesus,” and much more.

Review
An 1893 Review of the The Master Builder at London’s Trafalgar Square Theater (Ibsen.net)
“The blunder has been made. "Master-Builder Solness" has been played upon the London stage,” blustered the Pall Mall Gazette in 1893.

Full Text
The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen (Gutenberg.net)
Download a free version of the play to read on your Kindle or online.

Writings
Leon Trotsky on Ibsen’s Women (Marxists.org)
Can the seeds of revolution be found in The Master Builder’s Kaja Fosli or Hedda Gabler? Trotsky opines.



Worthwhile Words


Belgian symbolist poet Maurice Maeterlinck, writing in a New York Times article from 1894 about The Master Builder:
[Hilde and Solness's] talk resembles nothing which we have heard until now, because [Ibsen] has tried to mingle in the same expression the interior and the exterior dialogue. There reign in the somnambulic drama I know not what new powers. Everything that is said in it hides and discovers at the same time the sources of an unknown life. And if we are astonished, we must not lose sight of the fact that our mind is often, in our poor eyes, a very foolish power, and that there are in men many regions more fecund, more profound, and more interesting than those of reason or of intelligence.

Now Your Turn . . .


So what's your verdict? Once you've seen the show, tell us what you thought about the play, the sets, John Turturro's climbing skills, or anything else that might be on your mind in the comments below.

31 comments:

  1. I have not seen the show but it is a nice article about master builder.Thanks for sharing it.Master builder

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    1. I just saw the play today. I agree with some of the previous postings. Mr. Turturro made the play & he needed to be in the company of actors as skilled as he is. Ms. Schmidt was a horrible match, and yes, she got on my nerves too. The themes toyed with were wonderful & awakening, I loved them (as a woman in her mid-50's). But sadly, the master builder, a man in middle age crises was paired with a young adolescent woman, as if they could bond by sharing a similar yearning. The master builder, a now tired & once a driven man, can only attach himself to Hilde because of his narcissistic/insecure need to hear her continued praises of him. He grieves for a legacy he could have had, & sees the hope to plant such a seed via Hilde...but she is too immature & as self-absorbed as he is to understand his longing need. Instead, he must prove himself to her as if he is still a virile man & in the end, it is futile....a very appropriate theme for today's man, or for any man in every generation (as viewed by Ibsen). As an aside, the set was very imaginative & did convey the theme dealt with throughout the play. Thank you.

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  2. John Turturro is brilliant, as always, Katherine Borowitz is excellent is her controlled anguish. Whoever Wrenn Schmidt is, she's dreadful in this role of Hilde. She's not seductive or engaging, speaks in an uncomfortable monotone and we couldn't wait to get away from her. I was disturbed that some scenes sparked laughter in the audience when I don't believe it was meant to be funny. That speaks to a problem in the translation. The other characters were benign. Sorry to say the production was disappointing. When I think about Kate Blanchett as "Hedda," a searing performance, or "John Gabriel Borkman," I'm sorry to say "Master Builder" pales as an evening of theater.

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  3. I agree with "Anonymous", however I thought that Katherine Borowitz could have been any other actor. In the scene when she is talking to Hilde about the babies and her nine dolls, nothing could have been more underplayed. Hilde frankly, just got on my nerves. Turturro's acting was outstanding. Is there something known as an "uneven cast"?

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  4. Saw the show last night. The performance felt like a rehearsal. The cast was certainly uneven in my opinion. Hilda played sexual and childish instead of embodying those qualities. As a result, she never really played her objectives. The director along with the actors skimmed the surface of the play. The real danger that hounds 'The Master Builder' was never quite embrace and unfortunately I never felt any awe or grief at the end of play. I was kinda like..."Oh, it's 9:43...that was a waste of time."
    This is a master work and along with that comes a level of complexity and difficulty that cannot be seized upon in such a blase manner let alone in 3 weeks of rehearsal!

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  5. I am a huge fan of BAM and have seen so many amazing performances, but this was awful. Hilda was TERRIBLE and the doctor was also horrible, though luckily played a small part. It was overacted and just plain awful. John Turturo was fine, not great. I looked at my watch at least 5 times, waiting for it to be over.

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    1. As a new member of BAM, this is the 3rd production that I have been to in the last 3 months. None of them were worth the price of admission including this one. The worst part of the experience was the seating. In the Sharp Building the seats are unbelievably uncomfortable with terrible sight lines. In the Harvey Theater my seat was behing a pole. Those seats should not be given away FREE, never mind charged for.
      REALLY BAM

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    2. Best in cast but all too brief: Julian Gamble. Otherwise, a dreadful production: misinterpreted, sometimes shrill (Hilde), the leads every move practiced and bizarre,the final THUD, comic relief.
      BAM deserves better.

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  6. I was there Friday night. Full house. No walkouts that I could tell from my perch in the balcony. The translation is full of humor and life and the audience got that and seemed to appreciate it very much. The production was well cast and well played ... I'm not sure what all the carping is about - I thought it was one of the best Ibsens I've seen. Certainly far better than the bloated Borkman of a couple of years ago.

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  7. I'm afraid that I have to agree with the negative comments. I saw the production Sunday evening. I also thought that Wrenn Schmidt was dreadful but we have to criticize the director. I guess he wanted the little girl voice and she was about as sexy as an old crutch. Totally unbelievable that Solness could find her attractive in any way. I went specifically to see John Turturro who I admire very much. But even he seemed lost in this production.

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  8. The BAM production of 'The Master Builder' is a masterpiece. There has been an amazing contraction of a much longer text to its minimal but
    essential meanings. The rotating, off-center stage and the minimalist addition of music to portions of the dialogue deepen the action of the play that is itself ever a-tilt. The Solness and Hilde characters are magnificently played by Turturo and Wrenn. The portrayal of the self-destructiveness behind their yearnings for immortal achievement, control over secret powers and kingdomly love are haunting. As are their concluding cathartic falls from their imaginary heights.


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    1. If anyone is interested in hearing more about the "contracted" script that Frank mentions, listen to John Turturro and director Andrei Belgrader discuss it here.

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    2. A poor adaptation of the original work; and an uneven performance at best; but, in a way, glad I saw it

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  9. It was a fantastic and accessible translation very well acted. amazing set!

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  10. Hilde is played as a tramp not an ominous and destructive muse, consequently her ability to invade and inhabit the mind of the masterbuilder is beyond comprehension.

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  11. I must agree with the negative comments here. As a long time BAM lover, this must have been my worst experience. It seems like BAM did not take enough time in the choice of this play, or perhaps it was just a period play meant to please, rather than move?
    The actors were empty cardboard shells lavished in their costuming and the set....

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  12. Elena OuspenskaiaMay 25, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    One of the most mysterious of his plays.
    Could not be better fit for the lead role of Halvard Solnes than than John Turturro. It is indeed good! Wonderful Katherine Borowitz as Aline Solnes - plays perfect!!! And the other actors are very convincing.

    Big disappointment is Hilda. The young actress with doll's voice, and the doll look. She plays a young lady, who every now and then spreads her legs, so wanting to grab the attention of Solnes. In Ibsen's play this is a second most important character, which makes a big change in Halvard's life and his wife, a pretty strong character. And we don't see it. I assume, that It's hard to play with a partner who does not give any momentum. Looks like John Turturro in some scenes actually played for two.

    Design, music, light - as always impeccable.
    And even with a weak Hilda, it's a very good show! Although questions remain, same like they stay after reading the play. But still worth watching. Big thanks to all - I really enjoyed it!

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  13. Too much emphasis on the sexual dimension of the play (e.g., sprawling on the floor)and too little on the Nitzchean dimension (freedom for the superman). But I enjoyed the play very much and thought it was a great production.

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  14. Loved the production. Beautiful performances, Especially Katherine Borowitz. I'm so glad I saw this. I love Ibsen and this, for me , was a wonderful experience.

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  15. Master Builder was pretty bad. I was embarrassed for all the actors in the production. I saw Macbeth the following day and THAT was brilliant.

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  16. Saw it Sat. matinee. Hilde was seductive but not bewitching; the Master Builder was not possessed in mind and soul. The production was engaging but missing the soul wrenching depth Ibsen surely intended.

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  17. Once I took the point of view that the characters were intended as symbols, not real people, I got a lot out of the play. As an artist, I identified with what the Master Builder was going through, and I took the Hilde character as a kind of succubus/muse who leads him back to the libido, as in life force, of his early career and inspiration. I didn't see the ending as automatically tragic, as far as he was concerned. I didn't care for the performance of the actor who played Hilde, but in seeing her as a symbol, I could view her as absurdly stylized with a purpose. I kind of wondered about Mr. Turturro's portrayal of the climactic scene... specifically the sound he makes... I don't want to give anything away, but those who have seen the play may have some thoughts on this?

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  18. I love John Turturro's work. I was there Sunday with my Mom who was visiting from Boston. We both loved it! Thank you for a great performance!

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  19. Well, I have to respectfully disagree with Anonymous...all of them who are negative and unidentifiable. I saw the performance Wednesday, May 29th. I always shudder when I attend performances on Wednesday...a different crowd, often older, often from the burbs with less intellectual savvy and patience for depth and gut wrenching life onstage. The audience was OK, though...this was BAM, not Broadway, after all. I was thrilled with this production. Saw the play with a truly rotten translation starring Patrick Stewart who did the best he could, but there was no life and the lackluster muddied production lay there like a dead fish.

    I knew this would be different because of the translation and the direction and the actors. Turturro's stilted, affected portrayal in the beginning was off putting (as it should be) and then in his portrayal, he allows through the cement walls of this man cracks through which glimpses of light peak through, grow and expand gradually as the play progresses, of course, brought out by Hilde who relentlessly chisels and hammers away to bring him to truth. Nuanced relationship and wonderful work by Turturro and Wrenn. Above all clear and precise translation makes for a brilliant rendering of characters. Thought Wrenn was phenomenal; a combination of seductress, siren, muse, child, fairy, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, driven by her own passions for kingdoms whether of heaven or hell matters not...but the kingdom indeed is hers and she owns The Masterbuilder by the end and has achieved her possession. Turturro's litany describing when as the Masterbuilder he climbed to the steeple top in defiance of God and as his equal...andachieves freedom...is truly anointed. I never felt God more... Turturro's passion spot on...what an irony, c'est vrai? Borowitz was wonderful, repressed, poignant, transcendent in tragically becoming the stereotypic woman of that time, long suffering, doing her duty. In her sensibility she has no other choice-amazing. The audience liked her for the dark/tragic ironic humor.

    Loved the ending... thought it was much more powerful than in the other production/translation I had seen. And what color is the tower he climbs? Ah ha! (loved the turn table set...round and round and round...functional to be sure...yet the characters going in circles and caught in the turnings of whatever)...as Masterbuilder says, this is what I am (implying he can't change). But he is transformed, is he not by the play's end? Truly memorable...the other production so forgettable...(sorry, I do not mean to compare, but I can't help it). I will be seeing this again. I'm a huge theater goer. The production joined the ranks of rare productions of living theatre that lifted me rather Greek-like to a catharsis...Bravo actors and director.

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  20. I loved the production. This play compelled me to start studying Norwegian almost 40 years ago since its interpretative possibilities are so vast. In this production I was thrilled with the use of the audience as witness to Solness--the sun's--climb and fall. I loved the proliferation of plants made so apparent. I was transfixed by the stage cracking open into the cosmos where time and space coalesced with verdant forests and the full moon and stars on the autumnal equinox. Transcendent. Congratulations.

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  21. Left at the end of act one. Couldn't hear, much of the acting dreadful, just not a good play or production.

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  22. My mom came in from Boston to see the show with me last Sunday. We loved it. John Turturro is amazing. Thanks to all for a powerful performance!

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  23. Overall I was very disappointed in this production. Lead by John Turturro, and no doubt sanctioned by Anrei Belgrader, the acting style felt declamatory in an old-fashioned way. I wondered at first whether this mode of performance might in fact have been chosen to support the heightened, symbolic and expressionistic text. There were elements of this in the design, too. However, ultimately, I did not feel that such loud emphatic delivery was of much use, or necessary, in communicating the deeper ideas of the play. Many of the performances suffered as a result, John Turturro's being the first. He seemed quite adept at playing the egomaniacal hubris of Solness, but I never truly saw the fear that grips that character's core, the fear of his power being usurped by youth. Early in the first act, there are ample opportunities to convey the shaky confidence on which this man's career is built. I never once saw the fear crack through in Mr. Turturro's performance, or detected his alarm when he learns that his clients would prefer his assistant's work to his own. Regularly, the actors (it seemed to me) had been directed to walk downstage and "open up" to the audience. This robbed them of many moments of authentic discovery, and smacked of an old-fashioned performance mode. Again, while this is a style that probably harks back to the theatrical conventions employed when the play was first written, it seems now outdated and disconnected with the contemporary audience that BAM serves. (I could not help remembering the thrilling spontaneity that Janet McTeer achieved in A Doll's House on Broadway several years ago.) Wrenn Schmidt, while delightful in the role of Hilde, similarly missed many opportunities to play the other layers that psychology suggests might be present in a young girl whose innocence was essentially robbed by the Materbuilder when she was a child of 13. Where, in her performance was the anger and the need for retribution? It seemed that the dial on her performance was set only to seduction, and in fact as played, her final achievement in the production was an orgasmic climax.
    Certainly for my taste this production did not mine the work to it's fullest. I felt as though many of the minor roles were performed without must lustre, with the text being declared rather than originating in an inspired impulse.
    I would praise the set, for it's simplicity and the perfect way that it conjured the framework of both construction scaffolding and the lines of draftsman's blueprint in a metal structure that towered and loomed symbolically and forebodingly over the Solness house. But all admiration for the design disappeared in the final moments when the steeple was revealed upstage. Sure it was leaning at an angle with the rest of the set, but it suddenly felt so literal while the design up until that point had been abstract. Worst of all though it pulled the eye to Solness in a moment where Hilda's triumph ought to have been the focus. (And did we really need to hear the body thud as it "hit" the ground, which just felt comic?)
    The Masterbuilder is one of the greatest plays ever written in my opinion. It is full of ambiguity and meaning and so richly open to interpretation. Sadly I don't think this production gave us any more than the surface of those possibilities. And yet, I love that I got to see it. I love that I was disappointed by the production. I love that I reacted to what in my opinion were poor choices on the part of the director, scenic designer and actors. And I thank the producers for giving me the chance to dialogue with Ibsen's text, to hear possibilities even when I am not seeing them on stage.

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  24. We were later than we expected to be, but were welcomed, and supported by all the BAM staff both inside and outside the theatre to get to our seats (in the front row) before the play began. We thought the play and the actors marvelous, and the set fantastic. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

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  25. Great play, but a really disappointing production. The acting was truly horrible, with the sole exception of Katherine Borowitz, who seemed to telegraph the kind of Xanaxed-out sleepwalking that must have gone into the 'directing.' The audience was actually laughing; the final scene was especially inane. The live music was a nice touch, but seemed to serve as a kind of apology for the lack of anything else to focus on. The set could not have taken more than 10 minutes to conceive. It might have worked with less superficial performances, but this was an embarrassment to the New York stage, BAM.

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  26. Thank you, Santo Loquasto, for the brilliant set. It was there for me to enjoy when the play went off the rails. I thought the direction concentrated way too much on the "Ibsen as pre-Freudian" that the director mentioned in his commentary on the play, and used every scene between Halvard and Hilde as foreplay to a consummation that never comes. Honestly, I would have been more entertained by a more thoughtful examination of the individual characters and what they say and mean to each other. Stunned by a very brief appearance of Julian Gamble in a small part...he managed to get the period, the character, and I was actually moved by his performance. But thank you, BAM, for presenting such interesting, not-seen-all-that-often theater.

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