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Vol.26, No. 06 Oct. 16, 2000

19th-Century Scandinavian Drama in New Translation to Be Presented at Deutsches Haus

Stories of love and betrayal revealing the turbulent lives of two prominent 19th-century Swedish writers, August Strindberg and Victoria Benedictsson, will be the focus of an evening entitled “Fire and Ice,” on Friday, Nov. 3, at Columbia’s Deutsches Haus.

The Swedish Program will present staged readings of new translations of two one-act plays: “The Ice Maiden,” by Cecilia Sidenbladh, based on the diaries of Victoria Benedictsson, translated by Verne Moberg, head of the Swedish Program, and directed by Robert Greer, and “Playing With Fire” by Strindberg, translated and directed by Ulrika Brand.

To be presented for the first time outside Sweden, “The Ice Maiden” has previously been performed at Stadsteatern in Stockholm, Sweden. The play provides an intimate look at a woman struggling to establish her literary worth as part of the first generation of professional women writers, and to bridge a conventional bourgeois lifestyle with the bohemian culture of free love she encountered.

Victoria Benedictsson (1850-88), sometimes called Sweden’s George Eliot, wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren and attracted attention in 1885 with the publication of Pengar (Money), a novel about a woman who had wanted to become an artist and wound up as a bourgeois wife in a provincial marriage instead. It won Benedictsson a reputation as an up-and-coming novelist of special interest to the new women’s movement, and she was welcomed into Scandinavian literary circles.

Benedictsson’s love affair with Georg Brandes, a man considered to be one of Europe’s top literary critic, and his rejection of her and devaluation of her writing talent are the subject of “The Ice Maiden,” which is based on diaries she kept.

Many readers today outside Scandinavia have seen a reflection of Benedictsson in Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” and August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” which was written 1888, the year she committed suicide. A close friend of Brandes, Strindberg expressed strong interest in the circumstances of Benedictsson’s death.

Cecilia Sidenbladh, author of “The Ice Maiden,” is a contemporary Swedish writer whose dramatic works are based on historical subject matter and the novels of Carl Johan Love Almquist. Sidenbladh will be present on November 3 and available for discussion after the program.

Sybil Lines will play the role of Benedictsson. She is a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company who recently appeared on Broadway in “Waiting in the Wings” with Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris.

“Playing With Fire,” a darkly comic play, was written in 1892, the year that August Strindberg’s marriage to his first wife Siri von Essen was dissolved. The primary love triangle in the play closely parallels the early stages of the relationship formed between Strindberg, Siri and Siri’s first husband, Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel.

For Strindberg (1849-1912), the battle of the sexes provided his most consistent and charged subject matter. His masterpiece “The Dance of Death” (1900) is considered the model for Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and his influence as a playwright extended to Eugene O’Neill and Harold Pinter, among many others. Strindberg started out as a radical thinker professing sympathy for women’s causes. As his relationship with von Essen degenerated, his attitudes toward women became increasingly adversarial. Sweden’s most renowned literary figure, Strindberg is considered one of the founders of modern drama.

The program, starting at 7 p.m., will be held at Deutsches Haus, 420 W. 116th St. It is free and open to the public. For further information, call 212-854-7859.

This evening of theater will be sponsored by the Swedish Program at Columbia with the assistance of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.