Searing Plays from Scandinavia Three Playwrights Search for New Foundations on Which Human Interactions Can Be Built

By Joe Martin, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 1992 | Go to article overview

Searing Plays from Scandinavia Three Playwrights Search for New Foundations on Which Human Interactions Can Be Built


Joe Martin,, The Christian Science Monitor


IT may come as a surprise, but those supposedly secure, well-organized nations of Scandinavia produce some of the most expressive, poetic, and brutal theater to be found anywhere.

The Nordic lands have spawned a number of women dramatists of tremendous power. The work of three such women - a Swede, a Norwegian, and a Dane - has been on view this month in Washington, part of Scena Theatre's 1992 New European Play Festival, in the series called "Femina Europa that ends on Sunday."

In Scandinavian society today, as in the time of Norway's Henrik Ibsen and Sweden's August Strindberg, sexual roles and relationships are being churned up, and women are leading the search for new foundations on which human interactions can be built.

Swedish playwright Margareta Garpe holds tightly to a biting psychological realism, close in style to that of her sometime director Ingmar Bergman. She is fascinated with mother-daughter relationships. Norwegian Cecilie Loveid experiments between the genres of fiction, poetry, and radio and stage drama. Her concerns center on the female condition. The last is a highly controversial Danish writer, Suzanne Brogger, who is considered something of a cross between Erica Jong and Jean Genet.

Of the three, Margareta Garpe sticks most doggedly to conventional dramatic form. Among her best-known plays are "The Child" (1979) and "The Test" (1985), both of which explore the complexities and problems of mothers who want freedom but still feel responsible for their children. Ms. Garpe says that in the mother-daughter relationship the greatest existential questions arise. All women, she says, contain both the mother and daughter within themselves.

Her play "To Julia," written in 1987 and presented here last week, tells the story of a woman seeking the freedom to pursue her career as an actress, and yet distracted by her love for and companionship with her daughter. It begins as her 18-year-old daughter prepares to leave home and continues in scenes of combat and reconciliation between them.

When I met with Garpe in Stockholm - one of the great secret theater capitals of the world - last November, she was in the middle of rehearsals for her play "Every Day and Every Night" at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. I pressed her to discuss other subjects she might be exploring. She said that the relationships of mothers and daughters supplied her with the key that allows her to enter the human condition.

Garpe also pointed to the struggle of mothers in a rapidly changing world. Many daughters swear they will make things different for their daughters. Garpe said she hoped for some understanding of today's mothers. She writes: "{We} stood here with one foot stuck in the old and the other in something new.... We were as children in our time." Feminists should be warned: Garpe does not create positive female role models. There is an ambiguity and a darkness to her work. …

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