Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder,” now at Brooklyn Academy of Music starring John Turturro, wraps fanciful questions about creativity and the artistic impulse around Halvard Solness, the brilliant delusional lout who has turned personal tragedy into professional triumph.
After the long-ago deaths of his newborn twin sons, Halvard gave up designing high-steeple churches and hired himself out to wealthy burghers requiring the 19th-century Norwegian equivalent of McMansions.
Convinced his ambition willed the events that have made him wealthy, the Master Builder has come to believe in a greater power that permits him to establish his own moral universe.
At BAM, Santo Loquasto’s inspired skeletal set, angling for the heavens, and a beguiling soundscape by Ryan Rumery and Christian Frederickson, sleekly collude in making tangible the play’s frequent references to art as “spooky” and “magical.”
That atmosphere adds essential breathing room to Andrei Belgrader’s anemic revival with a hollow-eyed and jittery Turturro.
He’s sleeping with the bookkeeper Kaja (Kelly Hutchinson) while his dutiful, eternally mourning wife (sullen Katherine Borowitz) presides over the household. The estate is elegantly suggested by Loquasto’s spare jungle gym, rising up on a verdant revolve (evocatively underlit by James F. Ingalls).
Kaja becomes expendable with the sudden appearance of Hilde (Wrenn Schmidt), a young lady come to collect on a debt. Solness tried to seduce the 13-year-old by promising to buy her a kingdom a decade hence and make her its princess.
As Hilde says, in David Edgar’s breezy, sometimes jarringly contemporary adaptation: “Yup. And your 10 years have passed. And you haven’t been to spirit me away. As you promised me.”
A necessary electricity, dangerous and irresistible, is absent from the verbal thrust-and-parry that urges “Master Builder” to its lethal conclusion.
Turturro appears lost in the role, failing to connect with any of the others, but especially with Schmidt’s too-girlish Hilde. I couldn’t discern any point of view in Belgrader’s staging, unless it was to turn “Master Builder” into a Strindbergian vision of predatory womanhood.
Dying Mouse King
If you’ve been to more than one production at the invaluable Soho Rep, you know this adventurous company will transform its entire theater for the sake of a show.
So the failing country estate we entered for “Uncle Vanya” now reappears as the home movie theater (designed by Mimi Lien) of a Hollywood mogul for Lucas Hnath’s entertaining, idol-bashing play, “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.”
Larry Pine, a lanky, genial veteran of so many New York theater companies, TV shows and films that he feels like kin, plays the Mouseketeer King, as the dying Walt muses on posterity, death, nature movies, cryogenics and his dream of building the perfect city.
His brother Roy, taking the fall for Walt’s sins, is played by Frank Wood, another fine local actor (Roy M. Cohn in the recent revival of “Angels in America”).
Also present at the “reading” (the four actors sit at a long table on the stage and read from binders) are Walt’s angry daughter (Amanda Quaid) and the husband (Brian Sgambati) Daddy doesn’t care for.
Staged with economy and nuance by Soho Rep artistic director Sarah Benson, “Public Reading” is 75 minutes of pithy Waltisms, pseudo- and otherwise, in a mini Magic Kingdom of its own.
Through June 9 at Soho Rep, 46 Walker St., Tribeca. Information: +1-212-941-8632; http://www.sohorep.org. Rating: ***1/2
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.