Feature

John Gabriel Borkman

Ibsen's timely play is about a disgraced banker who’s untroubled by the many lives destroyed by his financial misdeeds.

Brooklyn Academy of Music Brooklyn, N.Y.
(718) 636-4100

***

“It’s no mystery” why this 1896 Henrik Ibsen play was taken out of mothballs in 2011, said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. The title character is a “disgraced banker” who’s untroubled about the many lives destroyed by his financial misdeeds. Here, the deliciously frosty Alan Rickman fills the role, creating a Borkman who “still believes in his omnipotence,” even after five years in prison and eight more in hermetic isolation. His wife, Gunhild, and her “estranged twin sister” are meanwhile fighting over the future of his estate, each “lobbying for control” of Borkman’s son Erhart. “Theatrical titans” Fiona Shaw and Lindsay Duncan play the warring siblings, and it’s their “chilly negotiations” that really make this show spark.

Unfortunately, “this seldom-performed portrait of frozen, loveless lives also feels frozen in time,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Despite its thematic timeliness, the play is mostly built around the “Dynasty-style standoff between the harpyish maternal figures,” and that makes this Ibsen work very much a period piece. Thankfully, the actresses playing the dueling sisters possess “the charisma and technical tricks to hold your attention.” In fact, their performances overshadow Rickman’s, whose Borkman seems to be “sleepwalking through his final days.” When a “gorgeous snowstorm” arrives in the final act, you’ll believe Shaw’s “mad-as-hell” Gunhild could melt away the drifts “faster than a blowtorch.”

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