by Clark Groome
According to the information in the program for the People’s Light and Theatre Company production of Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder,” when the play first appeared in London a critic wrote that it is “an impossible play … it will not stand examining.” That was more than a century ago, but at least in the opinion of the people who run People’s Light, “The Master Builder” is indeed worth examining.
That doesn’t mean it’s a great, or even a good, play. I don’t think it is. It’s more melodrama than tragedy. Master builder Halvard Solness (Stephen Novelli) has been quite successful building houses for young families since a tragic fire destroyed his family home and killed his twin infant sons. He often feels guilty about his good fortune coming on the heels of such a tragic event, one that practically destroyed his wife, Aline (Susan McKey).
Halvard apparently has been quite successful, although often at the expense of those who work for him. He has also refused to build a church since the fire, a decision he says he made to get back at the Almighty.
The last church he built included a tall tower. At the time, a 13-year-old girl names Hilda Wangel (Kim Carson) fell in love with Halvard. At a reception, Halvard allegedly told her he would wait for her and see her in 10 years. When the play opens, it is — ta da — 10 years later. Hilda shows up. All sorts of stuff is talked about (and boy, can they talk!). The play ends predictably when the acrophobic Halvard climbs the tower of his new family house.
The play is repetitive, not particularly original and, as noted, more melodramatic than tragic. This is lesser Ibsen, but director Ken Marini has staged about as strong a production as one can imagine the play, here being done with Paul Walsh’s new translation, receiving anywhere. The company — Novelli, McKey and Carson are joined by Mark Lazar, Lou Lippa, Ross Beschler and Jessica Bedford — is strong throughout, although much that do is in service to characters that are either obvious or unidimensional.
While designers Yoshi Tanokura (sets), Marla J. Jurglanis (costumes) and Gregory Scott Miller (lighting) do a fine job, “The Master Builder” also includes some Daniel Vatsky-designed projections that, in my view, add nothing to the production.
I’m glad to have seen “The Master Builder” in the strong production at People’s Light, but I’m inclined to agree with that long-ago London critic and admit that I don’t need to examine it again.
For tickets to the People’s Light and Theatre Company production of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder,” which plays through April 17, call 610-644-3500 or visit www.people’slight.org