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Ibsen's last play a big leap forward for Pantagleize

Posted 6:51am on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012

FORT WORTH -- When We Dead Awaken was the last play by Henrik Ibsen. Besides moving away from the naturalism that contributed to his standing as a founder of modern theater, he returned to the symbolist drama of his early work with this one, working in some autobiography and the artist's introspection about his life and work, and what it all means.

The play also happens to be the 25th full-length play production for the spunky Pantagleize Theatre Company, and its second Ibsen (they've done another late -- and rarely seen now -- work, Little Eyolf).

If that marks a milestone, then this production does too, artistically speaking.

It's far from perfect, but in terms of design and a directorial vision (by the young Kami Rogers) it's a big leap forward. And if the men in the cast were even half as good as the women with speaking parts, then PTC would really be on to something.

The three acts follow a sculptor named Arnold (David Crouch), who's having some career malaise, which is only bested by the ennui of his wife Maia (Rene Sarradet, passionate in her pursuit out of that ennui). So she takes up bear hunter Ulfheim's (a fidgety Aaron Vaughan) offer for a hunting trip in the Norwegian mountains. Meanwhile, he is haunted by one of his former models, Irene (Holly Kiehn), who keeps referring to him as dead. All the talk of cemeteries, statues and soul-killing is melodramatic for Ibsen, but at least Pantagleize isn't settling for the better known works in his oeuvre.

As mentioned, the men are not up to the level of the women in this cast, and it doesn't help their case that the director has added a younger version of the ghostly Irene, played by Heather Alverson and giving the show's best performance. It's an interesting concept that works; if the character of Irene holds the key to what Arnold wonders about his life, then having two of them adds a layer of complexity to that search for meaning.

Crouch takes the idea of the doldrums a little too far. His emotional portrait and vocal expression are one-note. It's no wonder his wife is bored.

The set design (uncredited) features elements of nature, including a tree, babbling brook and rocky ridges of the mountain. The play's ending, in which a natural disaster has the final say, is a coup de theatre for Pantagleize. The group continues its upward momentum that has come with its new space, where they've been for one-and-a-half years. Let's keep it going.

When We Dead Awaken

7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

Pantagleize Theatre, 1115 Rio Grande Ave., Fort Worth

$10-$15

817-472-0032; www.pantatheatre.org

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