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T O C O N T E N T PA G E S
Theatrical magic happens when directors work on plays they’re passionate about. This is especially true
when they re-investigate and re-imagine great classic texts, which then reveal themselves in new and
David Schweizer has been obsessed by Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic poem, Peer Gynt, for more than two
decades. Much like the onion that is used in the play as a metaphor for a life’s journey, Schweizer has
continued to “peel the onion” that is Peer Gynt in productions in the U.S., Norway and Poland. Once
again he revisits the play, this time for the Playhouse and our partner in adventure, Kansas City Repertory
Schweizer has transformed Ibsen’s landscape: 50 characters are played by 5 (with three actors portraying
Peer), adapted Ibsen’s poetry into colloquial language, and offers up Peer’s story in spectacular vignettes
that trace his journey from rags to riches to rags. In locales both familiar and fantastical, he encounters
characters that are sometimes surreal and sometimes too real for comfort. As charming hero, conman,
rogue and villain, Schweizer invites us to see Peer Gynt in all his guises, and marvel at how he evades
the universal question ”Who am I?” until his hourglass has almost run out.
Ibsen once said that his poem of Peer Gynt’s epic adventure was unstageable. Despite his belief, it was
staged, to great acclaim, in Oslo in 1872 (with incidental music by Edvard Grieg). Since then the play
has been mounted in countless productions all over the world by directors as obsessed as Schweizer. It
pleases me no end that he now can show us why this play, with its story of a sinner and the redemptive
power of love, is both timeless and of our time.
As written by Henrik Ibsen in 1867, Peer Gynt is a five-act, 50
character epic tale in which Peer Gynt, a dreamer and teller of tale
tales, travels to places imagined and real, encountering people and
creatures who challenge his idea of who he truly is. Unwilling to
face reality, Peer’s lifelong search for wealth and power leaves him
haunted by the purity and love of a simple farm girl. After years of
adventures, he returns home as an old man and learns the wages of
sin and the power of redemption.
Director David Schweizer’s adaptation and production brings this
fantasy to life with five actors who transform into Ibsen’s host of
characters, including Ase, Peer’s mother, Solveig, his true love, a
troll king and his daughter, and the invisible Boyg. Three actors
share the role of Peer Gynt, and we see his many incarnations on his
life’s journey: charming hero, con man, dance-away lover, entrepreneur and sinner.
Schweizer’s adaptation transforms Ibsen’s verse drama into colloquial language and collages the chronology of the original, yet
retains all of its joy, magic, heart, spirit and spectacle. The simple.
set, representing Peer and his mother’s farmhouse, contains all the
props, costumes and set pieces that the actors use for their transformations of character and locations in the play.
From a shipwreck at sea, to a village party, the magical Troll Kingdom in the mountains of Norway and travels through the deserts of
Eygpt and Morocco, we take a tumultuous ride through Peer Gynt’s
life as he confronts, and finally comes to terms with life’s universal
questions: Who are we? What is our identity? Are we part of a
master plan or are we on our own as we make our way through life?
By Henrik Ibsen
Adapted & Directed by David Schweizer
A Co-Production with Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Zinn, Scene Design
Christina Wright, Costume Design
Darrel Maloney, Lighting and Projections
Ryan Rummery, Sound Design/Composition
PEER GYNT will be performed with a
CAST: Danny Gavigan
Birgit Huppuch, Ase, Solveig, Peer Gynt, Buttonmoulder and others
Troll Princess and others
Kate Cullen Roberts
Nick Cagle Peer Gynt, Troll King and others
Ingrid, Anitra and others
Peer Gynt, Mads Moen and others
Understudy for Peer Gynt
SETTING: Various locales in Norway, the Sahara, Cairo and Morocco.
TIME: The adventure is told in real time with dreams, nightmares and flashbacks.
Five actors enter a magical pen space: Three men and two women. They seem to know one another —
a kind of family. Together they will portray the following characters and bring the journey of Peer Gynt to life.
In order of appearance:
PEER GYNT: a Norwegian farm lad who wastes his time in lazy dreaming, boasting and brawling.
SOLVEIG: a beautiful newcomer in the village.
ASE: Peer Gynt’s mother.
CAPTAIN: a Norwegian sea captain.
STRANGE PASSENGER: a mysterious stranger on the ship.
ASLAK: the village blacksmith.
MADS MOEN: the bridegroom betrothed to Ingrid.
NARRATORS: Hegstaad farm girls
INGRID: the bride.
TROLL PRINCESS: the troll daughter of the Troll King.
TROLL KING: the three-headed King of the Trolls.
BOYG (VOICE IN THE DARK): an invisible, mythical beast.
BUTTONMOULDER: a soul collector.
TROLL CHILD: the son of the Troll Princess and Peer Gynt
MR. TRUMPETBLAST: a tycoon from the American South.
MADEMOISELLE BALLON: a French woman.
MR. EBERKOPF: a German businessman.
NARRATORS: Slaves of a Bedouin chief
ANITRA: a dancing girl
THE SPHINX AT GIZA
MR. BEGRIFFENFELDT: the director of the insane asylum at Cairo
HUSSEIN: the Eastern Secretary of State
LUNATICS IN THE ASYLUM
THIN PERSON: an enigmatic being dressed as a priest who is actually something more sinister.
“I have had a relationship with Henrik Ibsen’s
Peer Gynt my entire creative life.”
first happened upon
Peer Gynt in the
library when I was an
undergraduate at Yale
University. I couldn’t
believe what I was reading!
First, Peer is telling his
mother this fantastical
story about flying through the mountains on the back
of a reindeer; two scenes later he’s in the troll kingdom
betrothed to a princess; twenty years later he’s a sheik in
Morocco! With its 50 characters, five acts and 40 locales,
the play seemed more cinematic than theatrical. Ibsen
himself, who wrote the piece in 1867 as a dramatic poem
and folkloric satire, said it couldn’t be staged.
I saw Peer Gynt as a wise-ass braggart, a village boy
who abandons his mother and the pure young girl who
loves him to go off on a lifelong adventure in which
much is found and lost, including himself. It was 1969,
a wild time in our culture, and Peer Gynt was magical
and phantasmagoric. It moved through time, space and
meaning, somewhere between consciousness and the
subconscious — it felt very modern, and I was hooked.
I chose the play to direct when I was the first student
invited by the Yale Dramat to do a show in the big
university theatre on campus. It was exhilarating to
grapple with the play’s challenges — how to get a giant
pig to fly, create hundreds of little green troll creatures,
and manage Ibsen’s sprawling full text.
In the ‘70s, I gathered eight young actors in blue jeans
and t-shirts at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and we
embarked on a very physical approach to the play. In
the ‘80s, the Polish National Theatre in Warsaw asked
me to create a chamber theatre piece. With many shows
in their repertory, five of their best actors had spare time
between shows. Once again I turned to Peer Gynt and, using
a literal translation, we radically reworked the original script.
We altered the chronology of the scenes and cut its usual
five-hour length to two hours. It was extremely successful
(it’s still performed to this day), and we were invited to tour
European festivals. At the International Ibsen Festival in Oslo
we performed behind the stage of Ingmar Bergman’s broad
scale production of the play. And thrillingly, descendants of
Ibsen himself gave their blessing to my version — they felt
I had found the essence. In 1995, I also directed a five-actor
production at Tim Robbins’ Actor’s Gang in Los Angeles with a
young Jack Black as one of the three Peers.
the beginning of this century. His name is still well known
among the people up there, but nothing particular is
remembered of his doings, beyond what is to be found
in Asbjørnsen’s Norwegian Fairy Tales,” (a popular 1842
compilation by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe).
On his own visit to the Rondane Mountains, Asbjørnsen
learned of a local legend, Peer Gynt, who came upon trolls
and other grotesque monsters as he hunted for reindeer.
Asbjørnsen later depicted him in a fairytale, Reindeer Hunt at
Rondane. Other Asbjørnsen stories depict Gudbrand Glesne’s
ride through the fjords — a story Ibsen’s Peer describes to his
mother at the beginning of the play — farm girls similar to
Peer Gynt’s Solveig and Ingrid, and the Boyg, an invisible troll
representing humanity at its most base.
There are certain plays in the theatre that are considered
mountains that can never quite be climbed. Peer Gynt is
certainly one of them. One of the great surprises I’ve found
is that with five actors — three sharing the role of Peer —
we can really “peel the onion” of the play layer by layer as
we search for the heart at its center. There’s something
exhilarating about the transformative journey that our
company of actors takes through the play. They provide a
prism through which we can see it in unexpected ways.
Beneath the folkloric aspect of Peer Gynt was Ibsen’s
socio-political critique of the Norwegian character. In
1863, during the Prusso-Danish war, King Frederick III
of Denmark advocated for closer ties with Norway and
Sweden to ward off an invasion by Germany. Students
and young professionals rallied for the cause, as did Ibsen,
but Norwegian and Swedish rural peasants took no action.
Germany prevailed, and Ibsen’s hopes for Scandinavian unity
were dashed. He channeled his disappointment into the
fictitious character of Peer Gynt, a charming, opportunistic
man with no guiding principles, gifted but superficial and
grandiose — a man with no center, no self, no identity.
Over the years, the culture has moved away from Peer Gynt
appearing on people’s “must-read” lists. I’ve directed the
play at various stages of my life, and each time, the things
that drew me to it changed. For me, now, the play is not only
about the question of who we truly are, but how we answer
it over the course of our lives. Peer Gynt has directly affected
and enriched my life — and the play has become more
profound, magical, and meaningful.
Henrik ibsen and the
aunted by his
in business, the
of his childhood
and facing his own
financial and professional failures, Henrik Ibsen left his
native Norway in 1864 for Rome, where he began writing
his dramatic poem Brand. His story of an ascetic clergyman
who seeks God and sacrifices everything for his beliefs was
published in 1866, became an instantaneous success and
made Ibsen famous throughout Scandinavia. During this
time, he began to work on Peer Gynt.
Unlike Brand, Peer Gynt had its roots in Norwegian folklore.
Ibsen was well-versed in the literature and history of
Norway, including Scandinavian myths, Norse sagas,
folklore and songs. In 1862 the Norwegian government had
commissioned him to visit the the Gudbrandsdalen region
of the Rondane Mountains, home to the troll kingdom. He
traveled to towns and villages surrounded by forests, fjords
and mountain peaks, collecting legends and folksongs. He
became fascinated by the supernatural elements of the
area’s folklore, particularly with its troll and ghost motifs.
Ibsen wrote to his publisher, “It may interest you to
know that Peer Gynt is a person who actually lived in
Gudbrandsdalen, probably at the end of the last, or at
Ibsen’s letters reveal that he also drew from his own life.
He wrote to his friend: “This poem contains much that is
reminiscent of my own youth: for Aase, my mother ... served
as the model.” In a letter to Danish critic George Brandes,
he wrote: “My father was a merchant with a large business
and wide connections … he failed, … and nothing was
left to us except a farm. In writing for Peer Gynt I had the
circumstances and memories of my own childhood before
me when I described the life in the house of ‘the rich John
Peer Gynt was the last dramatic poem that Ibsen wrote. In
1877 he launched his series of groundbreaking plays with
The Pillars of Society. He found himself in the forefront of
European intellectual, social and cultural thought with such
works as A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, Enemy of the People
and Ghosts, and laid the foundation for the modern theatre.
Time has distanced Ibsen’s epic allegory from its political,
personal and folkloric origins. Today Peer Gynt points to
questions about our individual identity, who we imagine
ourselves to be, who we truly are, and the price we pay to
pursue our dreams.
DAVID ZINN - SET DESIGNER
David Zinn, who is making his Kansas City Repertory Theatre debut as set designer for Peer
Gynt, describes his set design as “a theatrical attic.” David, whose set and costume designs
have been seen on Broadway, off-Broadway and across the country, recently took a moment out
of the rehearsal process to speak with us about his design.
Where did you draw your inspiration from for the set?
The design is a mash-up of a lot of impulses. It echoes both theater architecture as well as the
idea of a barn, or a kind of rustic country building. I looked at dance halls, old theaters, churches,
and grange halls -- places where people gather, both Scandinavian and American.
What types of influences will we see in your design?
I wanted some echo of “home” in the design of Peer’s house (both his mother’s, and where
Solveig waits for him). It’s a kind of magical, charged “room;” a place of discovery. It’s a simple,
folk-influenced, nostalgic room of our collective imagination.
What were the challenges you faced when designing this set?
In a way, with something like Peer Gynt, a play which goes everywhere, you kind of have to
either do that, or do the opposite. There aren’t any big scenic “moves” aside from a couple of
gestures that help bring a kind of different theatrical energy to the room. But this piece is very
much about simple magic -- we don’t hide much here. It’s a sad and funny and scary and musical and fun and dramatic story, so finding something that supports all those emotions, without
describing particularly any one of them, is among the challenges, certainly.
READ MORE ABOUT PEER GYNT FROM
THE KANSAS CITY REPERTORY THEATRE
> WORKS BY HENRIK IBSEN (page 10-11)
> IBSEN’S MORAL IDEAS (page 12)