The Norwegian and the Swede

Strindberg insisted on several occasions that his misogyny was entirely theoretical, but The Father is such a full-throated expression of hatred that this is hard to believe. Around the time he wrote the play, he prophesized a coming war of the sexes that would lead to a barbarous matriarchy and declared, “I shall fight as long as I have a nerve left in my body.” Six years previously, Ibsen had written the proto-feminist Doll’s House and Strindberg responded by accusing him of “scandalous attacks on the male sex.” The interchange between the two, great naturalist writers was hardly one-sided. When Ibsen returned to Norway after his long exile, he hung a portrait of Strindberg above his desk and claimed, “I am not now able to write a word without that madman staring down at me.” Strindberg, in turn, told a French historian, “The struggle I have been waging against M. Ibsen for ten years has cost me my wife, children, fortune, and career.” Continue reading “The Norwegian and the Swede”


French Quarrels Enough

CHICAGO—Anniversaries are wonderful excuses for obscure or ambitious productions, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater combines both four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death in Tug of War: Foreign Fire, the first half of a marathon revival that includes Edward IIIHenry VHenry VI Parts 12, and 3, and Richard III.  The main draws here are Edward III, which was likely co-written by Thomas Kyd and is only now becoming part of the official canon, and the three Henry VI plays, which are rarely produced and unfairly maligned by Shakespeare scholars. Continue reading “French Quarrels Enough”

All Friendship Comes with Conditions

The Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss is deliberately written against type. The stage directions describe him as “solid, tall and fleshy” and “not at all the pansy of legend.” The signature wit is slightly dulled, though when it surfaces it does so with acidity; here his satire is meant to sting rather than charm. “In England the preacher says prayers on the scaffold,” Wilde tells Bosie (Charlie Rowe), his voice dripping with urbanity, “Then straight after he dines with the hangman.” The wounds behind the jokes are much closer to the surface. Continue reading “All Friendship Comes with Conditions”


The School for Scandal is a kind of opera buffa version of Les Liaisons dangereuses—and in fact, only six years separate Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play (1776) from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ novel (1782).  But where the comedy in Laclos is devastating, in Sheridan it is forgiving: the gossip-mongers who dominate his stage are toothless, equal-opportunity offenders, and most are probably aware that they, too, are the victims of rumor. Continue reading “Pshaw!”