A play-length monologue from fluidly stitched together diary.
Dr. Tyko Gabriel Glas, a respected 19th Century Stockholm physician, is conservative, judgmental, meticulous, intellectual. Outwardly dour (think Ingmar Bergman films), he gets by on a low ebb of emotion patients rarely see. The doctor was once in love, however, and though a cynic, he considers his “a not uncaring heart.”
One day, Mrs. Gregorius, the young, pretty wife of a much older, “jowlry” Reverend, comes to him in distress. The doctor has observed the odd couple and can’t help wondering why they wed. (We learn this.) In her presence, he’s stirred in a way he hasn’t been for forty years.
Her husband repulses her, she sobs haltingly. Can Dr. Glas not tell the cleric that sex will physically harm one of them? Her rescuer does just that. Much to his surprise, the Reverend sputters that his wife won’t agree – as she wants a child. “I was afraid at the next moment he might use the God card.” Six months of abstention is prescribed. The physician delivers his speech without a qualm, yet adheres to law (against women’s rights, abortion) and advises moral choice (threatened suicide) elsewhere in his practice. (The novel precipitated a violent campaign against its author who was vilified in literary circles.)
The Reverend’s baser nature wins out over ostensible health. Mrs. Gregorius again appears pleading at the doctor’s door. Further warnings to the offending husband follow. The new prescription? Go elsewhere and rest or you yourself will be at risk. He does. Without a conscious plan, Dr. Glas assumes the woman is free – until he sees her with Klaus and realizes she has a lover. “Another man. Good God, I’d become a pimp!”
Members of his men’s club gossip. the doctor begins to have unsettling dreams. He comes across Mrs. Gregorius in a paroxysm of tears. Her situation has become dire. An escape has been dangled. Is it real? What can the physician do to help? How far from the righteous will he stray for his ideal? (Religion runs through this like invisible vertebrae.) A plan is carefully, secretly hatched. The doctor is wretched; determined to alleviate her suffering, striving to be “known” as her savior. There are resolutions, but not for the protagonist.
Daniel Gerroll, the reason I sought out this play, is marvelous. His Dr. Glas is so firmly entrenched, so fully realized, it’s as if we tune into history in progress. The actor’s bearing, accent, and movement speak of erudition and class. Moments of cracked façade are all the more effective for narrative equanimity with only a twitch or pause that betrays. Inhibition appears to knot the character’s viscera. Thought contradictions jolt. He conjures what he looks at.
David Ellenstein’s Direction is adroit, pacing splendid. Dr. Glas’s merely taking off his morning coat, walking a few steps, or shifting in front of a different (paneled) background adjusts mood as if turning a page/finishing an entry. Subtle signs of conjecture, turmoil, resolve, sympathy, even flickers of hope are exposed as they might be in the deep warp and woof of a guarded man.
Sound effects – church bells, birdsong, horse and carriages, rain – are unobtrusive and evocative.
Apparently Daniel Gerroll found the novel and pursued another version of the play before sending the book to Jeffrey Hatcher, then acquiring rights. “It kind of screamed to be made into a play,” Hatcher comments. “It’s told in the form of a diary and tailor-made to be a monologue. It’s dry, but also passionate; discursive, but also has great narrative thrust.”
The piece is beautifully shot with three cameras. Gerroll doesn’t play to one red light, however, making the experience more like attendance in theater. The set is minimal, allowing Dr. Glas to hold all focus. Gerroll is looking forward to performing the play live. “Theater thrives on warm bodies in the room.”
North Coast Repertory presents
Dr. Glas by Jeffrey Hatcher
Based on the novel by Hjalmar Soderberg
Translated by David Barrett
Directed by Artistic Director of North Coast Rep- David Ellenstein
Featuring Daniel Gerroll
Excellent Cinematography, Editing, Projections, Lighting by the multi-talented Aaron Rumley
Scenery by Marty Barnet; Costumes by Eliza Benzoni
Through August 15