Through a Glass Darkly
There’s something mesmerizingly intimate about theater, particularly in a small Off Broadway space like the New York Theatre Workshop, where the Atlantic Theatre Company is mounting a stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly. Instead of revealing close-ups of Bergman’s anti-heroine Harriet Andersson we get a mature, full-bodied performance by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan as a schizophrenic on the verge of her final crackup. It’s a remarkable sight.
At first, Karin is a seemingly normal young woman enjoying the summer at a coastal estate with her husband, Martin (Jason Butler Harner, considerably younger than his film counterpart, Max Von Sydow), her withdrawn, failed-novelist father, David (Chris Sarandon), and her precocious 16-year-old brother, Max (Ben Rosenfield). But there are soon signs that all’s not quite right with Karin. Her hearing seems overly sensitive, as does her sense of smell.
Writer Jenny Worton has taken liberties with Bergman’s screenplay, and almost entirely for the better. She plants more clues (and medically grounded ones) about Karin’s condition, she smoothes over some of Bergman’s more didactic tendencies, and she makes some of the sexual elements of the story more explicit: Early on, Karin strips topless in front of Max, much to the adolescent’s embarrassment, and later catches him with a girly magazine and his hand down his pants. (The original film was more demure on these points.)
Still, it’s curious that Worton chooses to forgo two central elements of Bergman’s original story. Instead of acting out Max’s dad-baiting play, perhaps the most theatrical scene in the film, David dismissively tells his son that he’ll read the work himself, later. This seems like a missed opportunity to dramatize the generational rivalry and friction between father and son. Perhaps intending to keep the focus more on Karin, Worton also excises the film’s God-focused final exchange between David and Max.
It certainly makes sense to center the production on Karin, especially since Mulligan is more than up to the challenges of this tricky role. (Credit, too, to director David Levaux’s evocative staging.) As she ping-pongs between reason and madness, Mulligan is at once vulnerable and emboldened, wounded and radiant. A-
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