Sunday, November 5, 2023

Nobel Laureate Jon Fosse's Strong Wind


On November 3, 2023, Scena Theatre artistic director Robert McNamara presented the United States premier of Strong Wind by 2023 Nobel Laureate in Literature Jon Fosse as translated in English by May-Brit Akerholt. The Dresser found this compelling one-hour, intermissionless drama with word play echoing Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Exit—1944) and Gertrude Stein’s poetry, such as “If I Told Him, a Completed Portrait of Picasso” (1923). Sterk vind (Strong Wind) debuted in 2021 according to Wikipedia which lists 34 of his plays, 33 works of prose, 13 collections of poetry (one of which is titled Stein til stein (2013)), and three collections of essays.


Strong Wind performed in the black box theater of Washington, DC’s Arts Center before an audience just under 50 people has a cast of three unnamed players. The Man, played by Stas Wronka, returns home to discover that his wife—The Woman (Sissel Bakken) is cohabiting with another man—The Young Man (Robert Sheire). At first, he thinks she has moved from the home he expected to return to, and she agrees that she has moved. Throughout the play the nature of reality is questioned as well as small assumptions made about daily living.


Repetition and reversals populate what The Man says as well as an undercurrent of Western philosophy such as his discussion about what he sees out the window of the place he now calls home and maybe always called home. His patter unfolds something like this, “What I see is always the same, but it changes like a wink of the eye. Perhaps it changes when I blink my eyes. I don’t know the difference between winking and blinking.” His discussion suggests the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who put his foot into a stream and realized that the world is in constant flux and hard—no, impossible—to nail down. Stas Wronka excels at thoughtfully conveying how difficult it is to communicate his thoughts and feelings through his spoken words and body language.


He also has an extended monologue about time and the phenomenon of knowing the difference between past, present, and future. His riff about “Never now, not now, never here” clearly sounds like Gertrude Stein who learned from her Harvard University professor William James that now had the smallest window of occurrence and yes, James used the word window which dominates Fosse’s play.


Without embarrassment The Young Man kisses and makes love to The Woman. They pantomime a ballet where she uses the wall for a solo segment of the dance which shows her sexual rapture. The Man collapses to the floor and rolls around. Then gets up and has a moment of clarity that reveals the home is on the fourteenth floor in a building with a lot of glass panes. At this moment, as The Man talks about the strength of the wind, the Dresser started fearing the worst for him. Here the conflict between the three intensifies.


The Young Man removes The Woman’s shoe and stocking and bites on her toes. The scene is shocking not only for The Man but also for the audience. Then The Young Man asks, “Why can’t we both live here?” Here the Dresser heard echoes of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except Fosse manages to examine the complexities of sexual and mature marital relationships in minutes versus Albee’s hours. Hats off to Sissel Bakken and Robert Sheire as well as director Robert McNamara for such effective acting and direction.


The play has a subdued soundscape created by composers Roger Doyle and Andrew Bellware. While there is some musical variation that includes a style the Dresser calls techno and something else reminiscent of film noir scoring, most of the background sound is recognizable as wind and people on the street.  


If you are in Washington, DC, take this opportunity to get familiar with the work of Jon Fosse who has won many prestigious awards. Strong Wind runs through November 26, 2023.

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