FOR THE NEW CITY'S DREAM UP FESTIVAL TO PRESENT ENGLISH LANGUAGE PREMIERE
OF "GUILTY" BY NOTED CONTEMPORARY ICELANDIC PLAYWRIGHT HRAFNHIDUR
HAGALÍN, TRANSLATED BY SALKA GYUDMUNDSDOTTIR.
NEW YORK, August 7 -- Iceland in the 19th Century was not exactly an idyll; it was an island nation of farming and fishing communities, pretty much cut off from the much of the rest of the world. Crime was rare and capital crimes rarer still. So the country's criminal cases have become the stuff of legend, including the child rape case in Rifsaedasel of 1837, which is as infamous to Icelanders as The Manson Family is to Americans. Contemporary Icelandic playwright Hrafnhildur Hagalín revisits this infamous case with "Guilty" (2014), a verse play that gracefully and provocatively examines issues of obsession and mercy which cling to it to this day. Robert Greer, Artistic Director of New York's August Strindberg Rep, discovered the piece, translated by Salka Gudmundsdottir, at a staged reading in Denmark in 2015 and resolved to bring the play to American audiences. Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival has made this possible, presenting the work September 5 to 17 as part of its eighth annual festival of edgy new works.
In the play, the hired hand on a subsistence farm on the rugged north coast of Iceland stands accused of adultery with the farmer's wife. She has continued the relationship even after he has raped her young daughter. Her husband and daughter both testify against them. The penalty for adultery in 1837 is death. The play is the remembrance of all five characters, from different points in time. For the judge, it is a memory play and he reflects with astonishment and regret on the consequences of his ruling. This was his first case. The theme of the play is that obsession runs deep, but mercy runs deeper.
The Icelandic title of the play is "Sek," a short term for guilty. The play is written in unrhymed verse (reminiscent of works by American poets of the 1960s) based on trial transcripts from 1837 which were, interestingly, written in longhand. In the script, line breaks guide the actors in phrasing the text. Akureyri Theatre Company, the northernmost theater company in Iceland, presented the play in 2014, for which it was awarded Iceland’s Griman prize. The play is lean and minimalist in its concept: its setting is a sparse courtroom on the north coast of Iceland in 1837. The defendant and three witnesses stand in the four corners of the room facing the judge. The soundscape is only the wilderness sounds surrounding their stories.
The actors are Brian Hamilton and Sean Hoagland, who alternate in the roles of the farmer and the hired hand, Ivette Dumeng as the wife, Mary Tierney as the narrator/judge and Bailey Newman as Gudrún, their daughter. Lighting design is by T. Michael Culhane. Costume design is by Jessa-Raye Court.
Playwright Hrafnhildur Hagalín was born in Reykjavík in 1965. She graduated from the Reykjavík College of Music as a classical guitarist and later studied Literature and Theatre at the University of Sorbonne, Paris I V. Her first play, "I Am the Maestro," was produced at the Reykjavík City Theatre and won her the Icelandic Critics' Award in 1991 and the Nordic Theatre Prize in 1992. It has since been translated to twelve languages and produced in many countries around the world, including Australia, France and the USA. It was nominated as Best Foreign Play in Italy in 2004. "Easy Now, Electra," Hrafnhildur’s second play, premiered at the Icelandic National Theatre in 2000 and was nominated in Gríman, the Icelandic Theatre Prize, as the Best Icelandic Play in 2001. Her other plays included "North" (2004), "Salka Valka" (an adaptation of the novel by Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness, 2005), a television play and the radio play "Loners" which a cycle of short plays for older actors produced and broadcast by Icelandic State Broadcasting System in September 2009. Hrafnhildur's plays have been published by Mál og menning in Reykjavík, "Iperborea" ("Io sono il Maestro," "I am the Maestro," 2003) and Oxford University Press ("Easy Now, Electra," in Anthology of Modern Women Playwrights of Europe, 2002 ). Since 2009, she and Steinunn Knútsdóttir have lead Room 408, an online theatre venue based in Reykjavik and focused on digital performance and specializing in exploring the web as a place for performance and performance making. Hrafnhildur lives in Reykjavík and is dramaturg at the Reykjavík City Theatre.
Robert Greer is founding director of August Strindberg Rep, a resident company of Gene Grankel Theatre, for which he has directed ten Strindberg plays to-date. He has staged English-language premières of numerous contemporary Scandinavian playwrights, including Sweden's Marianne Goldman, Helena Sigander, Cecilia Sidenbladh, Oravsky and Larsen, Hans Hederberg, Margareta Garpe and Kristina Lugn; Denmark's Stig Dalager and Norway's Edvard Rønning. He has also directed classics by Victoria Benedictsson, Laura Kieler, Anne Charlotte Leffler and Amalie Skram. His productions have been presented at the Strindberg Museum and Strindberg Festival, Stockholm; Edinburgh and NY Fringe Festivals, Barnard College, Columbia University, Rutgers, UCLA; Miranda, Pulse and Theater Row Theaters, La MaMa, Manhattan Theatre Source, Tribeca Lab, Synchronicity, TSI, BargeMusic; and The Duplex in LA. He has also directed plays by Mario Fratti, Sartre and Corneille here in New York. He is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Actors' Equity; the Strindberg Society, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study and Swedish Translators in North America.
The eighth annual Dream Up Festival (www.dreamupfestival.org) is being presented by Theater for the New City from August 27 to September 17. An ultimate new work festival, it is dedicated to the joy of discovering new authors and edgy, innovative performances. Audiences savor the excitement, awe, passion, challenge and intrigue of new plays from around the country and around the world.
The festival does not seek out traditional scripts that are presented in a traditional way. It selects works that push new ideas to the forefront, challenge audience expectations and make us question our understanding of how art illuminates the world around us.
A unique and varied selection of productions is again offered, drawing upon a variety of performance specialties including singing, clowning, poetry, street music, magic and movement. The Festival's founders, Crystal Field (Executive Artistic Director of TNC) and Michael Scott-Price (Director of the Festival), feel this is especially needed in our present time of declining donations to the arts, grants not being awarded due to market conditions, and arts funding cuts on almost every level across the country and abroad.
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