Burnt House– Suspicion in the Aftermath of a Fire

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Three things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth…Buddha

It’s a daunting task to take new translations, as skillfully accomplished by Robert Greer, of two classic Strindberg works and shape them into productions. The August Strindberg Repertory Theatre has done just that.

Burnt House is one of Strindberg’s final works and is presented here in rotating repertory with The Storm. The two are defined as Opus One and Opus Two of the Chamber Plays which also include The Ghost Sonata, The Pelican and The Black Glove.

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Jason Paul Tate as The Dyer

The story is centered around the aftermath of a fire that resulted in a house being burnt to the ground and the search for the culprit who did it.  In a village filled with hatred and suspicion, everyone is a suspect. There are some symbolic clues: the table, long thought to be ebony is, in fact, painted maple.  The dyer’s hands are stained with dye.  It is discovered that there is a history of smuggling in the family background. But it’s not that simplistic. The work is filled with metaphors often difficult to discern.  The principle thrust is the inevitable revealing of truth long hidden. As the stone mason philosophizes, “What’s buried when it snows comes to light when it thaws.”

The production is sustained with the performances of two principal actors: Jason Paul Tate, the fabric dyer whose house has been destroyed, and Toby Macdonald, the “stranger” returning to the charred remains. It is the conflict between the two that holds the consistent attention of the audience. Both do an exemplary job of portraying the characters within the mandatory style demanded of Strindberg’s works.

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Michael Donaldson and Madeleine Saidenberg

The other actors: Michael Donaldson as the Mason/Stonecutter with a prison record; Marc Solari (Gardener/Hearsedriver) who offers a bit of humor by repeatedly insisting “I’m an ass”; Brent White (Alfred/Painter); Theodoric Wells (Student/Detective); and Madeleine Saidenberg who, portraying three very different characters, is most interesting as the neighborhood gossip whose very existence depends on the gossip she can gather and distribute.

Although all the actors display considerable talent and do a good job in developing their characters, they are not always consistent within the specific style required of the piece.

Perceptively directed by Whitney Gail Aronson, with the excellent support of Lighting Designer Benjamin Ehrenreich, Sound Designer Daniel Melnick and Costume Designer Janet O’Neill.

Photos by Jonathan Slaff
Opening: (R) Toby McDonald (The Stranger) and (L) Jason Paul Tate (The Dyer)

Presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre in association with Theater Resources Unlimited
At the Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street (Between Bowery and Lafayette)
Burnt House: Sunday October 25 at 4 p.m.;  Tuesday, October 27, and Thursday, October 29, at 8 p.m.
The Storm: Sunday, October 25,  at 2 p.m., Wednesday, October 28, and Friday October 30, at 8 p.m.