The Century Center's production of The Master Builder would be the envy of any draftsman. Building on Ibsen's script, the cast and crew constructed a high-reaching night of theatre that gave the audience a clear and fresh view of this classic play.
The Master Builder is the story of Halvard Solness, an unhappily married architect who has lost passion for his work and is increasingly fearful of youthful competitors. Solness seeks rejuvenation in Hilda, a young woman who eventually leads him to his downfall.
Dennis Parlato was an intense, moody Solness. He paced the stage with fervor, yet shrewdly walked the line between melancholic husband and anxious libertine. As Hilda, however, Tami Dixon was less satisfying. Her Hilda came across as a flighty, happy-go-lucky woman-child where a teasing, inexperienced seductress would have served better; Solness should fall for her youth, but also be pushed by her designs (E.M. Forster astutely described Hilda as a restless "minx" and likened her to Hedda Gabler). Still, though their relationship appeared somewhat suspect, there was no questioning the complex ties between Solness and his wife. Wendy Barrie-Wilson was impeccable as Mrs. Solness, fusing sorrow and resignation into an incredibly rich mixture of deep emotions. Along with Parlato, Barrie-Wilson's near-perfect performance became the heart of the show.
From the blueprints that littered the desk and walls to the books stacked on the fireplace mantle, each piece of the Century Center's set showed an admirable attention to detail. Pam Snyder's costumes (with the exception of a plastic visor worn by one character in this, an 1892 play) were also praiseworthy, as was Graham Kindred's lighting.
As she did with last season's Rosmersholm, director J.C. Compton proved she knows how to advance the story without hurrying the actors. Though the two hours of The Master Builder progressed at a tight pace, plenty of time was saved for thoughtful pauses -- a tough directing feat, here made to look easy.
The Century Center's Ibsen Series is a jewel of New York theatre. Their ambitious undertaking to present all 12 of Ibsen's major works has been consistently satisfying, and this show was no exception. The Master Builder was a well-crafted production, built by the cast and crew of a first-rate theatre company.
(Also featuring: David Jones, Harmony Schuttler, George Cavey and Paden Fallis)
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Copyright 2002 Ken Jaworowski