Robert Bly’s Peer Gynt provides mystical bliss and pulls off noteworthy humor. Friday night’s opening performance was one of the best for Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre.
Bly’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 Peer Gynt shows how a troubled man’s misfortunes and behavior unravel hardship in life, love and relationships. A mother’s boy, turn liar, turn drunkard, develops a nasty reputation in his hometown.
“What I need is a big cleaver so I can cut their guts out!” murmured Actor Mark Rylance, the amazingly talented, yet distressed, Norwegian Peer Gynt. After being humiliated and drunk with wine, Peer extricates himself from civilization as he knows it, and decides to try a new way of life among the unpopular trolls…unsuccessfully.
After escaping from engagement, a child and an indefinite troll life, Peer tries to mold his being around the unattainable troll king’s motto, "Out there, where the sun shines so much, people say: 'Be true to yourself, increase and grow.' Down here in the dark, where everything's rough, we say, 'Just be yourself, you're good enough.'"
Giving a realistic account for the number of professional changes often found in modern life, Peer tries himself at sea, convinces a religious group of ladies he’s a prophet, becomes a European capitalist and ultimately ends up fulfilling his professional dream of being emperor…alas, of an insane asylum in Cairo.
With countless scene changes, foreshadows and flashbacks, Bly’s rhyming rendition reflecting Ibsen’s original Peer Gynt left some themes feeling incomplete. The lively opening surprise party for Peer amid an already bustling audience didn’t seem to receive the attention it probably deserved. Not only did it take minutes for them to quiet the audience, but after realizing that this wasn’t entirely important to the show itself it was rather disruptive.
Even with the sometimes non-comprehendible, otherworldly events and scenes, Rylance’s self-awareness over his powerful ability to engage and captivate an audience was remarkable. It’s not very often an actor can stop an orchestra’s music mid-script through humor and wit without worry of losing the audience.
Unfortunately many years too late, Peer seemed to be reconciled to his faithful empire, Solveit, played by Miriam Silverman, just before accepting punishment for his sins.
With energy that blew through the roof and a special closing appearance from the playwright himself, Peer Gynt receives my highest recommendation for play of the season and vote for best leading actor.