By Amy Clare Tasker, Assistant Director for the Strindberg Cycle
One of my favorite metaphors in The Chamber Plays is in Burned House, when The Stranger (James Carpenter) reflects on the uncanny interconnectedness of people and events in his life:
“How everything is woven together here, your own destiny and others’ … When you’re young you see the web being set up: parents, relatives, friends, acquaintances, servants are the warp; a little further on in life you see the woof; and the shuttle goes back and forth with the thread, it breaks sometimes but is knotted back together and on it goes; the beam strikes, the yarn is forced together into curlicues and there lies the web. In old age when the eyes begin to see, you discover that all the curlicues form a pattern, a monogram, an ornament, a hieroglyph, which now you can begin to understand: It’s life itself! The Worldweaver has woven it!”
This is a huge theme in The Chamber Plays; I and others have previously written posts on the density of human destinies that so intrigues Strindberg.
With our first – and indeed, the first ever – Chamber Play marathons on the horizon next weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways the plays are connected physically, not just thematically. For starters, choosing to house multiple characters in the body of a single actor draws connections and associations that are simply not there when the play is viewed as its own separate entity. James Carpenter, Robert Parsons, Danielle O’Hare, Cailtyn Louchard, and Carl Holvick-Thomas in particular are playing multiple versions of an archetype, each a variation on the others – cut from the same cloth, you might say, to continue Strindberg’s textile metaphor.
Each of the five plays presents its own unique “production problems” as we say in the theatre world – that is, there are moments and revelations called for in the script that are not always easily represented onstage. Some of these challenges – “how do you reveal a parrot-mummy-woman sitting in a closet?” and “how do you knock down the walls of a burned house?” and “how do you represent a six-story building in a small black-box theater?” – are the problems of one individual play. But the ultimate challenge of our production of The Chamber Plays has always been, “How do you stage seven hours of Strindberg so that it feels like one huge play? How do you make the marathon Cycle something more than the sum of its parts? ”
Our fearless leader, Rob Melrose, whose vision has fueled and guided The Cutting Ball Theater since its inception in 1999, has proposed an elegant solution, together with this production’s incredible design team: set the Cycle itself in a 100-year-old ballroom. In this world, we get a sense of the time and place in which Strindberg wrote these plays, as well as a context for the streamlined scenic elements, Michael Locher’s versatile “magic cabinets” which serve as walls, windows, doors, and yes, a closet for the parrot-mummy-woman. We have been so fortunate to have the support and energy of our imaginative design team, and I am very proud of the world we have woven together.