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STRINDBERG’S ’GHOST SONATA’

for The Brooklyn Paper

Born in 1849 to a serving woman and a bankrupt ex-gentleman, Swedish playwright August Strindberg knew poverty and misery from early childhood. This personal experience explains the subject matter for many of his plays - the conflict between men and women, and the antagonism between classes.

Strindberg was an acute observer of environments, customs and manners, and a master of the concrete, whether he was dealing with city or provincial life, the upper or the lower classes, historical or contemporary situations. But Strindberg not only deepened realistic drama in plays like "Miss Julie," he also transcended realism with pioneering experiments in non-realistic plays like "The Ghost Sonata," which made him the first modern master of both psychological realism and expressionism.

[The Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden will stage "Ghost Sonata" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater June 20-24.]

In the 1890s, Strindberg became interested in the physical sciences, but his experiments in chemistry soon transformed into alchemy, occultism and mysticism as he came under the influence of Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian poet, dramatist and essayist notable for his mysticism and dreamy subject matter. Strindberg’s plays became more symbolic and less realistic.

Then in 1896, Strindberg suffered a psychological crisis that brought him to the edge of madness. His new plays began to give form to his vision of life, in which the inner world has as much, if not more claim to reality than external experience.

Written in 1907, "The Ghost Sonata" was first produced for the Intimate Theater in Stockholm, which Strindberg had established that year with August Falck.

"The Ghost Sonata" is a chamber play in three scenes. It opens on a square in front of an elegant home, where the Student converses with the Milkmaid, who is visible only to him. Hummel, an elderly gentleman, encounters the Student and introduces himself. [In BAM’s production, Hummel is played by Jan Malmsjo.]

During their conversation, he learns that the Student is a Sunday Child, which, according to Swedish folklore, means he has supernatural powers. Intrigued, Hummel invites the Student to dinner at the stylish house, where he meets its inhabitants - the colonel; his wife, the Mummy; and their beautiful daughter, the Young Lady - as well as various guests and servants.

Over the course of the evening, the Student falls in love with the Young Lady, and secrets are gradually unfolded that reveal the entire cast - except the Student - as both physically and emotionally corrupt.

In "The Ghost Sonata," Strindberg evokes the horrors of the subconscious world, a world populated by lost souls and surreal characters. But in its own way, "The Ghost Sonata," like Strindberg’s realistic drama, reflects the artist’s will and ability to make the unknown and the hidden revealed and the subconscious conscious.

 

"The Ghost Sonata" will be performed June 20-23 at 7:30 pm and June 24 at 3 pm at the BAM Harvey Theatre [651 Fulton St., (718) 636-4100]. Tickets are $20-$65. The play will be performed in Swedish with simultaneous English translation.

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