Lauren Rosenfield, Assistant Dramaturg
There is a series of YouTube videos called “Strindberg and Helium” that, if you haven’t seen, you might want to stop everything and go watch right now. Essentially, the videos show a morose cartoon Strindberg bemoaning the travails of life (“the whole of nature stinks of decomposition and decay”), while his floating pink puff companion, Helium, echoes the ends of Strindberg’s sentences in an annoyingly high, squeaky voice. The videos are so humorous because of the levity that cartoon Helium brings to cartoon Strindberg’s ridiculously depressive rants.
As I have watched these five Chamber Plays over the last few months, I can’t help but think about “Strindberg and Helium.” Contrary to what you might believe about Strindberg, there are moments in these plays that are funny! Thankfully, Strindberg didn’t write one-man plays expounding upon his loss of faith in society, truth, and relations between people (as cartoon Strindberg does) Instead, while the plays do wrestle seriously with the large and sometimes gloomy themes of lies, secretes, justice, shame, and nemesis (to name a few), they also create their own moments of levity, of helium. I have found myself laughing during rehearsal and tech more than I ever thought I would.
While not present as a floating pink companion, the humor in Strindberg’s plays arises from wonderful moments between the very human characters that Strindberg wrote and that our actors are portraying beautifully. I don’t want to give these moments away, but some humor emerges from awkward silences that the characters share, and other funny moments arise from snarky asides that characters utter about each other. Still other amusing moments emerge when the actors play with the social boundaries of their characters or with shows of coarseness or indecency for the time period. And finally there are the few characters that consistently offer comic relief—look out for the Tomte in Black Glove and the Confectioner in Storm (both played deftly by David Sinaiko).
Now, I don’t want anyone expecting The Chamber Plays to be a barrel of laughs, but I do hope you will enjoy, appreciate, and delight in these moments of helium. As Rob Melrose (our director) says, “We’re making Strindberg fun!”