Bloomfield Actors Help Bring Ibsen Classic to Life
First show of the season set to open Friday at Magenta Giraffe Theatre in Detroit.
Two actors from Bloomfield Hills are looking forward to bringing mysterious and complex characters to life in a new production at a Detroit theater opening this week.
Fans of classic drama will discover an intriguing evening of theater at the Magenta Giraffe in Detroit. Magenta Giraffe Theatre is in its fourth season and consistently presents thought-provoking, cutting edge productions featuring local actors.
Its first show of the new season, Henrik Ibsen's classic drama Rosmersholm, is in rehearsal as actors and crew prepare for a Friday opening.
Bloomfield Hills actors Jon Ager and Richard Payton appear in this production. Ager plays the title role of Johannes Rosmer, an ex-clergyman and a prominent figure in the community. Payton appears as Peder Mortensgaard, a newspaper editor and political foe of Rosmer.
The actors have worked with each other before, most recently in Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy at the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale and The Hebrew Hammer at Planet Ant in Hamtramck.
"Rosmersholm is very different from the type of show I normally do," Payton said. "I tend to be in a lot of comedies, and it's challenging to do something so totally different. It's great in that I'm using some different tools than I'm accustomed to using."
Ager is likewise relishing the demands of bringing a mysterious and complex character to life.
"Rosmer is working through some revelations in the play," Ager explained. "He has a childlike innocence about him that he fights to preserve throughout the play. He seems very attached to the sense that he can do what he wants simply because his intentions are pure. Other people see what he does in a different light and it causes conflict."
Magenta Giraffe's Executive Artistic Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates is directing Rosmersholm and is very excited to be presenting this particular play.
Ibsen wrote the script in 1886 and although it is not as well known as other works by the Norwegian playwright, it is considered by many critics to be his masterwork. What's more, modern day parallels throughout Rosmersholm make it just as relevant today. At that time, Ibsen keenly observed the emotional and societal chaos that ensued as extreme politics in Norway's changing political scene created conflicts that turned friends against one another and tore the very fabric of the family unit. Today, as we're inundated by daily reports of the ongoing squabbles between ultra-conservative Tea Party members and more liberal Democrats, it's apparent the personal and political conflicts Ibsen dramatized so long ago remain an unfortunate reality today.
When asked how she came to choose Rosmersholm as the inaugural production of the 2011-12 season, Shepherd-Bates was emphatic.
"We had decided to produce a classic this year, as we did in our inaugural season with Sartre’s No Exit," she said. "I started looking at Ibsen, but didn't want to do the standards that everyone has seen so many times, such as A Doll's House or Hedda Gabler. As I researched Ibsen’s plays, I came across Rosmersholm and the more I read the script, the more I fell in love with it. Exploring the show on its feet in rehearsal has convinced me even more what an amazing play it is. As we work, it seems the second we come up with one answer we have 10 more questions we're asking about the play and the characters. It's endlessly fascinating and challenging.”
Four other local actors – Dave Davies of Warren, Keith Kalinowski of Ann Arbor, Alysia Kolascz of Ann Arbor and Dominique Lowell of Royal Oak – complete the six-person cast.
Farmington Hills designer Barbie Amann Weisserman created the period costumes for the play. She is working with Magenta Giraffe Theatre for the first time and thoroughly enjoying the experience.
"Costuming a period piece is a lot of fun and having a cast that is very accommodating makes it easy," Weisserman stated. “Frannie has been great. She respects my artistic design and appreciates the research involved in creating period pieces. All of that together makes for a beautiful picture on stage while telling a story at the same time, which is what I aim for."
Actor Richard Payton says this production is not to be missed. "It's a great opportunity to see something masterfully written, produced by a great group of actors doing some amazing theater," he said. "It's definitely something you're not going to see again for a while."
If you go
Rosmersholm is scheduled to open Friday and run weekends through Oct. 9 at the Magenta Giraffe Theatre at 1515 Broadway in Detroit. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with one Sunday matinee scheduled on Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors and industry. Pay-what-you-can tickets are also available at all performances.
To reserve tickets, call 313-408-7269 or visit the theater's website at www.magentagiraffe.org.