By Amy Clare Tasker, Assistant Director
Writing the Chamber Plays at the end of his life, Strindberg had a lot to say about the idea of time. In all but The Pelican, James Carpenter plays an old man racing against time. In Storm, he is “closing out his accounts with life” and has “even begun to pack for the trip.” In Burned House, he visits his childhood home to purge himself of the past. In Ghost Sonata, he schemes to pass along his wealth to an heir he has just met. In The Black Glove, he searches urgently for the secret of life, knowing that the time for this work will soon be over. In The Pelican, the recently-deceased patriarch of the family is represented by James’ portrait over the mantle. Though these roles are not five appearances of the same character – the Chamber Plays are not continuous episodes in a series – the associations among them are profound and resonant, as you’ll see when you join us for the marathon performances in November. Ideas and even complete phrases come back again and again, haunting characters the way they must have haunted Strindberg. In The Ghost Sonata, Hummel says “My whole life is like a book of fairy tales, young man; and though the stories are all different, there’s a thread running through them and the main motif returns like clockwork.” And indeed, in each of the plays, clocks appear to remind characters of how much or little time they’ve got, or to tick away the final seconds of a life. Later in The Ghost Sonata, the clock is described as ticking like “a death beetle in the wall! Do you know what is says? Time’s up! Time’s up – – -” and in Burned House, the family clock, which “measured out the hours of two generations… seemed like an intelligent clock; it stopped when someone died.” In Storm, Gerda finds herself in her old home and is greeted by the chime of the clock that she’s heard in her head every day she’s been away. “That clock,” she says. “It never kept good time, but it measured out five long years by the hour, day and night.” This idea is an echo of an earlier moment in Storm: “Time passes quickly, once it’s past, but while it’s passing, it drags on.” Even as a young person, with more time left to pass than is already past, I have to laugh in recognition of this sentiment. The relativity of time is everywhere in everyday life: from a kid counting down to her birthday party; or a driver stuck in traffic; to an elderly couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary; or parents taking their 18-year-old to college. Strindberg’s characters often take a bird’s-eye view of life, with complex and rewarding metaphors and a strong sense of humanity and an appreciation of time on earth. After four weeks of rehearsals for The Chamber Plays (has it been that long already?), I can say with confidence that time in Strindberg’s world is time well spent.