ShareThis Page

Quantum uncovers humor in Ibsen drama

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Malcolm Tulip and Robin Walsh in Quantum Theatre's 'John Gabriel Borkman.' Credit: Heather Mull
Robin Walsh, Malcolm Tulip and Bridget Connors star in Quantum Theatre's “John Gabriel Borkman.' Credit: Heather Mull
Malcolm Tulip, Daina Michelle Griffith, Luka Glinsky, Bridget Connors in Quantum Theatre's 'John Gabriel Borkman.' Heather Mull


Yes, it's cold outside.

But the atmosphere is even frostier at Quantum Theatre's “John Gabriel Borkman.”

Rest assured, the actual premises are toasty enough. Quantum's heating equipment warms the intimate performance and audience areas.

The setting for Henrik Ibsen's 1896 play is a wintry evening in a house while a driving snow falls outside.

Moreover, the relationships between the characters are decidedly chilly.

Eight years after serving time for embezzlement, John Gabriel Borkman paces in an upstairs room he seldom leaves, brooding over the past and fantasizing his eventual redemption and return to power.

Downstairs, his wife, Gunhild, alternates between seething over her loss of fortune and social status while plotting how her now-grown son, Earhart, will restore the family's reputation.

Though the Borkmans live separate lives and never speak, they have one thing in common. Unable to let go of the past, each dismisses the pain Borkman's greedy schemes caused for others, while portraying himself and herself as victims.

The characters may be more than a century old, but they have contemporary relevance to the masters of recent banking, investment and housing scandals. The action and the rancor heat up with the entrance of Ella Rentheim, Gunhild's twin sister and John Gabriel's former mistress, who raised Earhart when the Borkmans lost their money and their reputation.

She, too, has plans to continue the past into the future: She wants Earhart to move back into her house.

But Earhart and his associates, we quickly learn, have a different future in mind.

Michael Meyer's translation and Martin Giles' direction make clear the divide between those who freeze themselves in the past and those who step into the warmth of the future.

Ibsen's dramas are seldom thought of as comedies. But Meyer and Giles mine a surprising amount of humor from this play.

Most of that humor comes at the expense of the characters' inability to see the contradictions between what they believe and the reality that surrounds them.

Malcolm Tulip's impatient, self-centered John Gabriel and Bridget Connors' selfish, shrewish and jealous Gunhild reframe every action and conversation to their own needs and vision.

Tulip's John Gabriel is particularly cruel when dealing with Foldal, his one remaining friend, sympathetically played by Ken Bolden.

Robin Walsh's Ella Rentheim is slightly more sympathetic.

But they're all emotional boa constrictors ready to strangle others for their needs.

So it's a delight whenever Daina Michelle Griffith's scandalous Fanny Wilton, Carlyn Tote's childlike Frida Foldal and Luka Glinsky's independence-minded Earhart inject their equally self-centered, but refreshingly unrestrained, oxygen into the stifling surroundings.

Costume designer Christine Casaus outfits everyone in period clothing that's suitable to their characters, particularly the chic, eye-catching outfit Fanny Wilton wears.

Set designer Tony Ferrieri uses invention and artistry to solve the myriad challenges presented by a room with a single entrance and exit and the need to move swiftly between three distinct settings.

One final note: As Quantum artistic director Karla Boos explains in her program notes, “Dream of Autumn,” the company's next production scheduled to open April 5, is planned as a companion piece to “John Gabriel Borkman.”

Written by John Fosse, a contemporary Norwegian playwright, it shares writing styles with Ibsen's play while having a different outlook on similar themes.

If that's not a compelling reason to leave home, it's important to know that this neatly conceived production is an excellent opportunity to see this rarely produced Ibsen drama.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.