Jason Tate As The Dyer

NEW YORK -- When a man's house comes down, so do the layers of secrets he has built his life on in August Strindberg's "Burnt House," which will be presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre from October 3 to 30 at Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street. The play will be staged in a new translation by Robert Greer that will be adapted and directed by Whitney Gail Aronson. "Burnt House" is Opus 2 of Strindberg's late-career Chamber Plays. As part of a month-long examination of Strindberg's final works, it will be staged in rotating repertory with Opus 1 of the Chamber Plays, "The Storm," which is adapted and directed by Greer.

"Burnt House" is the story of a dyer of fabrics whose house has burned down. There are a number of suspects and anyone could be the culprit. Adultery, family criminal activity, and old sibling rivalries emerge as the mystery unfolds. Not only has his house been destroyed, but also the metaphorical walls the house owner has erected.

The play takes place in the cinders of a burned home, on a street where, according to the town's stone mason, "What's buried when it snows comes to light when it thaws." It's a neighborhood where everybody hates, suspects, double-crosses and torments each other. The fire has started gossip; gossip has widened into accusation and all that it rotten has come to light. Into this picture steps The Stranger, an alter-ego for Strindberg himself, who will sort it all out. There is a strong theme of coming home, with the message that you can run away from your problems, but eventually you will have to face your demons.

"Burnt House" is in the same vein as Strindberg's sprawling memory plays, "To Damascus" and "The Great Highway," and to a lesser degree "Dreamplay" and "The Ghost Sonata," mostly in its tone. It exemplifies Strindberg's recurring theme of stripping away facades to reveal dark secrets that were hidden from view.

The Chamber Plays ("The Storm," "Burnt House," "The Ghost Sonata", "The Pelican" and "The Black Glove") are Strindberg's final writings. After their debuts in Strindberg's Intimate Theater in Stockholm in 1907-8, the playwright fell into declining health and died in 1911. These plays were written as a set with musical concepts. "The Storm" has very specific music cues. "The Ghost Sonata" is an actual sonata. The plays even have Opus numbers: "The Storm" is Op. 1 and "Burnt House" is Op. 2, although their premieres did not take place in that order. August Strindberg Rep is presenting in rep the two plays of that series in which a house of several apartments is integral to the dramatic situation. In "The Storm," the house is home to a prominent old government minister, who had lived happily there with a wife he had abandoned. She moves back to it, to the apartment above him, with their daughter and a new husband. In "Burnt House," revelations about the characters manifest even physically in the Dyer's house, which before the fire had appeared to be the home of an honorable merchant. After the fire, it turns out to have double walls for smuggling goods.

Through the years, Sweden's greatest directors have staged both plays. "Burnt House" has had two major historic revivals which took it different directions. In the 1930s in Gothenberg, it was treated it as a comedy. In the 1950s at the Royal Theater in Stockholm, it was played as a period piece with local color. Its prototypical characters are the kind that Swedes would have remembered from their childhood.

In keeping with the minimalist style productions at Strindberg's Intimate Theatre (which were radical in their time), both "Burnt House" and "The Storm" will be produced on an essentially bare stage. "Burnt House" will have hanging scenery evoking the orchard visible now that the house that had obscured its view has burnt down. In "The Storm," the facade of The Cabinet Minister's house will serve as the fourth wall.

Director Whitney Gail Aronson has staged three of Strindberg's plays for August Strindberg Rep: "Dance of Death," a stage reading of "Gustav Adolf," and last Spring's production of "Kristina" (1903), the history play upon which the Garbo film "Queen Christina" was based. She holds an MFA in Directing from The New School for Drama.

Robert Greer (translation) is Founder and Artistic Director of August Strindberg Rep.

The actors include Jason Tate, Michael Donaldson, Mark Solari, Madeleine Saidenberg, Brent White and Theodoric Wells. Set design is by You-Shin Chen. Lighting design is by Benjamin Ehrenreich. Costume design is by Jessa-Raye Court.



August Strindberg Repertory Theatre will present "After the Fire" in rotating repertory with Strindberg's "The Storm," adapted and directed by Robert Greer. "The Storm" is the story of the marriage foibles of an elderly government minister. Ticket package: both shows $30, available at: www.smarttix.org.