AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Henrik Ibsen, in a new version by David Eldridge
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Barbara Oliver
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

When we think about the people behind the financial frauds that make headlines today, we see that they have several traits in common. Among them are greed, arrogance, hubris and lust for power. These are the very qualities that drive the title character in "John Gabriel Borkman," Henrik Ibsen's 1896 drama about a Norwegian bank director whose financial maneuvers landed him in prison and caused many investors to lose money. Aurora Theatre Company is presenting this timely work under the canny direction of Barbara Oliver.

Most of the action takes place in one evening at the home of John Gabriel Borkman (James Carpenter) and his wife, the embittered Gunhild (Karen Grassle). While he paces in an upstairs room, she receives an unexpected visit from her estranged twin sister, Ella Rentheim (Karen Lewis). Their estrangement goes back to when John Gabriel chose to marry Gunhild for practical reasons rather than Ella, whom he truly loved.

John Gabriel is filled with bitterness, too. He blames other people for his downfall and believes that if he had had just a few more days, he would have been able to fulfill his development dreams and made money for himself as well as his investors. Soon he and the two older women are vying for the loyalty and company of the Borkmans' young adult son, Erhart (Aaron Wilton), who has his own ideas about what he wants to do. He prefers the company of the lively, lovely Mrs. Fanny Wilton (Pamela Gaye Walker) to their delusions and oppressive personalities.

Director Oliver stages the action well on John Iacovelli's spare set with its period furnishings, complemented by York Kennedy's lighting and Chris Houston's music and sound. Anna R. Oliver's costumes reflect the times and personalities well.

The talented cast, led by Carpenter's driven Borkman, is completed by Lizzie Calogero as the Borkmans' maid and as Frida Foldal, a young woman who plays violin for Borkman, and by Jack Powell as Vilhelm Foldal, Borkman's former associate who still visits him.

Despite occasional touches of melodrama, this new version by David Eldridge is accessible and helps to bring out the plays's timelessness.

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