Play by August Strindberg
Henrik Ibsen was a mighty good playwright
For someone where there wasn’t much daylight
Scandinavians can be pessimistic
So they needed someone expressionistic
And I don’t mean crazy Edgar Swedenborg
Instead they gave birth to August Strindberg
Who put their ghosts in a dream
That mummy lady was a scream
Would’ve lived longer if you’d had an occasional laugh- ha!
Then you could’ve met your number one fan, Franz Kafka
Doggerel, claptrap, and falderol… Where does the nonsense become wisdom? Late in his life, Strindberg gave birth to expressionism in the theatre, initially using dreams as the guiding structure. At times, A Dream Play reads like a Monty Python sketch with all the riotous wordplay and potential for physical comedy. Then, it jumps to another sequence and we skirt issues of indigents and conflict between the sexes.
Where Strindberg’s art may not be seen on the stage so much anymore, the content of his plays remains a touch point for political discussions, particularly for his apparent misogyny. Throughout his long career, he repeatedly raised concerns about disloyal women and female inferiority. He further complicated easy pigeon-holing by publicly supporting women’s rights in late 19th century Sweden, for which he was prosecuted. So dismayed by the behavior of strict religious leaders, Strindberg went into self-imposed exile. His personal life was convoluted and he clearly was working that out in his writing. In the end, his plays read like someone who never imposed a filter. I am not talking about politics alone, either. No one bogged down in structural rules would have written A Dream Play.
Miss Julie is his most famous work because it appeals to college professors looking for something short that would get most of their students arguing, so it remains a staple to this day. Strindberg had a penchant for the sensational and Miss Julie covers class and sex with a small cast and is bound to pack them in on a cold night. We’ve got a sure profit maker here. Did I mention that it is more intelligent than all those rich woman/poor man stories that have followed in its footsteps?
Easter remains Strindberg’s best play for me. Someone ought to do it in pairing with Merchant of Venice, as it feels like something of a rebuke. The dread that looms over the first two acts is relieved on the titular holiday by the least expected source. Youthful obstinacy ends up providing the roadblock to resolution. Oddly enough, Strindberg keeps setting up villains (notably lawyers) only to humanize them later. He seems far more content to jest than to to destroy. Through all the absurdity, the sadness, the losses, Strindberg’s major characters seem modern and three dimensional if only because he judges everyone as having motivations beyond the obvious (and life is no more absurd than we imagine). The stage thrives on the unexpected turn and Strindberg consistently found new paths.
Apropos of nothing, Strindberg had a talent for painting. Between the marriages, the multitudinous plays, the memoirs, the travel, the novels, the theatre management, and the angst, it is difficult not to feel lazy. Oh, and he posed for Edvard Munch.
Oh, and Strindberg helped drag novels into the modern era with his satirical classic The Red Room, exploring the hypocrisy inherent across human society. The book remains a touchpoint- you can see it providing the backbone for Gentlemen & Gangsters, currently streaming on Netflix.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 286 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.