It’s hard to overestimate the influence of 19th-century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen on theater and, in particular, the modern English-speaking stage. With plays like A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, An Enemy of the People, and Ghosts, Ibsen was one of the first to point a moral (but not moralizing) eye toward social issues like the effects of poverty and the inferior status of women. But his pet theme, illustrated in scenes full of naturalistic but explosive dialogue, was arguably the foundation of all modern drama: the plight of the individual who struggles with the expectations placed upon him or her by society. George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O’Neill, to name just two, worshipped him.
Few people realize, though, that Ibsen turned his back on realism and social critique with his final, rarely seen play When We Dead Awaken (1899). The script is poetic, brooding, and full of symbolism that can seem odd or, frankly, ridiculous to contemporary audiences. The Fort Worth company Pantagleize Theatre specializes in obscure but influential European works, so it’s natural that they’d want to give this difficult play a shot.
“This show is very expressionistic and surreal in comparison to his other plays,” said Kami Rogers, the show’s director. “It’s also a little autobiographical, in the sense that Ibsen was expressing a general restlessness with his life as an artist. There are a lot of moments that remind you of pieces in his other works. He seemed to be working through some personal stuff.”