August Strindberg Repertory will move its all black cast production of Strindberg's "Playing With Fire" to the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, from June 15 to June 30, raising it to an Off-Broadway contract. With this production, August Strindberg Rep becomes a resident company of the Gene Frankel Theatre. The play, one of Strindberg's rare comedies, is translated by Ulrika Brand and newly adapted by Obie-winner Leslie Lee, Executive Director of Negro Ensemble Company. Directed by Robert Greer, the production is co-presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre and Negro Ensemble Company in association with Theater Resources Unlimited.
The production opened Off-off Broadway at New School for Drama, 151 Bank Street (West Village) on May 18 and will finish its scheduled run there on June 10. The original run of 16 performances will be increased by an extension of ten, for a total of 26.
"Playing With Fire," one of Strindberg's rare comedies, was written in 1893 after the playwright found himself involved in a love triangle within a love triangle within a love triangle. Leslie Lee has transformed its setting from a Swedish summer house in 1893 to a summer cottage of the black social elite in Oak Ridge, a neighborhood of Martha's Vineyard, in 1926. That is around the time Oak Bluffs beach first became a mecca for the black upper crust from around the country.
Strindberg's original is set on the front porch of a summer house in the Stockholm archipelago. This adaptation places the play in a 1920's beach house, Cape Cod-style, utilizing a two-story drop painted by set designer Angelina Margolis. The production will be transported intact to the Gene Frankel Theater, whose high ceiling can accommodate the high drop.
The polite society that flocked to "The Ink Well," a section of the Oak Bluffs beach, has been chronicled in "Our Kind of People" (1999) by Lawrence Otis Graham. In the 1920s, that neighborhood first became a home for several generations of wealthy blacks who lived (and still live) in a sort of separate world, not unlike their counterparts in other ethnicities. Many people with ties to these families--through their shared schools, sleepaway camps, fraternities and cotillions--seldom admit their status to non-elite blacks. Leslie Lee mixed with this set as a young man; he was "socially acceptable" as a student of an Ivy League college.
"Playing With Fire" is a character-based comedy, populated with the Swedish version of Chekhovian characters. It seemed opportune to transport the play to another community, whose characters were fully-flavored and would support the comedy. Leslie Lee says, "The people who moved to Martha's Vineyard were creating a black upper crust: a hierarchy that reflects our own black intelligentsia, which was alienated from the rest of society and contemptuous of it. They were playing with fire." He had, in the past, written a soap opera pilot about that period. For this adaptation, he sees his job as making the play as comical as possible in moments when it can be done. He doesn't resist the temptation to take a jab at black elitists here and there.
In the play, a writer named Axel (modeled on Strindberg himself) visits his best friends, Kerstin and Knut, at their summer house. Knut is a painter who doesn't paint and Kerstin is a writer who doesn't write. They live with and live off his parents. His father is a wealthy retired businessman with a checkered past. Also present is their younger cousin, Adele, a poor relation treated more like a servant than a family member. Knut is having an affair with Adele but his father has his own plans for her. Both she and Kerstin have their sights set on Axel, who makes his getaway in the nick of time. Says Leslie Lee, "Each of them reacts according to their own quirky personalities. They are all playing with fire. They endanger their personal relationships and the integrity of their community."
The August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (http://www.strindberg.org/) was founded in honor of Sweden's great playwright and is committed to production of his plays in new translations and interpretations that illuminate the plays for today's American audience. The company is particularly committed to new productions of Strindberg's best and least-performed plays in fresh translations by leading translators.
Robert Greer (director) is founder and Artistic Director of August Strindberg Repertory Theatre and has directed numerous contemporary Swedish playwrights in their English-language premières. These include MariAnne Goldman, Helena Sigander, Cecilia Sidenbladh, Oravsky and Larsen, Hans Hederberg, Margareta Garpe and Kristina Lugn, Denmark's Stig Dalager, Norway's Edvard Rønning, and classics by Victoria Benedictsson, Laura Kieler, Anne Charlotte Leffler, Amalie Skram and August Strindberg. His productions have been presented at the Strindberg Museum and Strindberg Festival, Stockholm; Edinburgh and NY Fringe Festivals, Barnard College, Columbia University, Rutgers, UCLA; Miranda, Pulse and Theater Row Theaters, La Mama E.T.C., Manhattan Theatre Source, Tribeca Lab, Synchronicity, TSI , BargeMusic; and The Duplex in LA. He has also directed plays by Mario Fratti, Sartre and Corneille here in New York. He is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Broadway League, Actors' Equity; the Strindberg Society, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study and Swedish Translators in North America.
Ulrika Brand (translator) is a director and translator of Strindberg plays ("Crimes and Crimes" and "Playing With Fire"), a member of the Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab, and former member of Pacific Resident Theatre Co-op (Venice, California). She has also worked in the motion picture industry and handled public relations for cultural and educational institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, and Columbia University.