Through a Glass Darkly

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This is such a remarkable production I hardly know where to start. Ingmar Bergman, as adapted by Jenny Worton, is one of those writers who go deep, not wide. Everyone in this play is pretty much in the same place where we met them at the beginning. It is not they who have changed. It is us.

    And while Bergman and Worton are the composers it is Barry Mulligan as Karin who is the conductor. She is also the engineer and the tour guide on this train. Karin is losing her mind, and the more we see of this beautiful brain the more tragic its loss becomes, because Karin is sane enough to know what is going on even as she is swept aside by the force of the wave.

    On an island off the coast of Sweden Karin’s family has come for a vacation. While Karin’s condition is the underlying heartbeat of their time together, it is not the entire story. Karin’s father David (Chris Sarandon) is an established author for who greatness is an unachieved goal. The pursuit of that goal is his life’s activity and firm reason for him to deny himself any intimacy with his family. Since his wife’s death he is unmoored around them and performs his fatherly duties like a man.

    Martin (Jason Butler Harner) is a man in love and in Hell. He is a doctor, and his devotion to his wife borders on the obsessive because tending to her is his only way of coping with the reality of her condition. Max (Ben Rosenfield) is a boy who is entirely out of his depth with his sister. His growing pains overwhelm him while he watches their relationship succumb to the power of her illness.

    David Leveaux has shaped this production with a delicacy that is only apparent in retrospect and makes you grateful that this production didn’t fall into clumsier hands. His guide ropes create a trail that Carey Mulligan clambers over without pause, without fear, without an ounce of self-defense. So willing is she to let us in that she appears naked even when she is dressed. She unzips the dress of her soul and lets it fall to the floor. This is a character that shifts from joy to resentment to wildly unbalanced within the space of one sentence. It is as though the entire theatre were shifting one centimeter at a time and Karin is the one ringing the alarm bell.

    So deeply does this production plummet and at such an extraordinary pace that when you stand up to leave the theatre, you might wobble a bit. This will come as a surprise to you because Mulligan and Leveaux have mastered the art of sleight of hand. They take you into the dark damp intimate depths before you have a chance to say no. They do this because they can. This is the journey that represents all the journeys we yearn for. We want to climb into each other’s lives. We want to feel each other’s hearts beat inside our own chests. We want to leave our seats and fly to places we know not of.

    This production delivers what most theatre only promises: the electricity that is life directly to your inbox.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Mulligan convinces us that we are seeing through Karin’s very skin. Such vision is a rare and frightening privilege afforded only by acting of the highest order."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "Mulligan and company deliver vivid performances. But Bergman's Nordic blues still come out pale and white-washed."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "It's a ham-fisted melodrama."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Impresses as a character study, if not so much as a fully satisfying drama."
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "Never has the harrowing impact of the work that inspired it."
    Andy Propst for Back Stage

    "A very tedious business, indeed."
    Robert Feldberg for The record

    "Dour and short on insight, but it provides a powerful role for the tremendously talented Carey Mulligan."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "Watching Carey Mulligan, ..., lose her mind ... is ample reason to see the ... disquieting production. ...bleakly beautiful."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - The Hollywood Reporter - Variety