By Carl Holvick-Thomas
Actor in the Strindberg Cycle
When people ask me about staging these plays, I tell them it’s like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle in which you don’t know what the final picture will look like. The array of disjointed colors and shapes scattered on the table in front of you is daunting. You fear there are pieces missing, lost under the bed of time, culture, and language. Then you discover corner pieces which anchor you in the world you are creating. Next, the edges expose themselves and eventually a framework is set. Suddenly images you never expected start taking shape. Then with more time and determination, the individual fragments link together to reveal the greater tapestry.
My metaphor, however, doesn’t fully explain my process of working on these plays. I am not a distant observer analyzing all the pieces on the table in front of me on a dull, rainy, Sunday afternoon, dispassionately testing each strange, bulbous protrusion with another globular void that might possibly fit. For me, the pieces weren’t all on the table. When I looked hard enough, they were revealed in nature, relationships, and the recesses of my heart, mind, and soul. Strindberg demands that you dig deeply within yourself and in the world around you in order to understand his work.
The truths in Strindberg’s plays don’t come cheaply. I hope I’m not being presumptuous, but I believe these plays have taken their toll on everyone working on them in some way or another. I used to think that we were brave and ambitious for doing something unprecedented in staging all five Chamber Plays, but now I see that the bravery of these artists actually comes from the willingness to explore a harrowing impression of life’s terrain, with all its peaks and valleys, oceans and caves, that Strindberg has mapped out for us.
For an actor, theater can seem ephemeral. Eventually, closing night will pass and I’ll move on to the next job. Sometimes I have a flicker of a thought that perhaps when I look back on these plays, I will I say to myself, “Wow! Remember that crazy year where I got a glimpse inside the mind of some mad genius? Yeah, that was WEIRD.” But no, Strindberg’s themes were too painful and cut too deeply when I really invested in them for me ever to dismiss this journey. They are also, however, complicated by promises of redemption and hope. I don’t exactly know how I will view this period of my life in the future, but I truly believe I will feel lucky to have been humbled by his works.