From October 26 to November 17, August Strindberg Repertory Theatre will present an innovative double-bill of Strindberg's plays, "Casper's Fat Tuesday," translated by Jonathan Howard, and "The Stronger," translated by Robert Greer. The evening is a "sweet and sour" pairing of one undiscovered play and a novel adaptation of a more familiar one. Both translations are world premieres. The plays will be directed by Robert Greer, produced by the Strindberg Rep and the Pink Pig Ballet in association with Theater Resources Unlimited, and performed at Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (East Village).
"Casper's Fat Tuesday" ("Kaspers Fet-Tisdag") is a proto-absurdist work that was originally written as a puppet show. Penned in 1900, it was first performed in 1901 and published posthumously in 1916. No English translation has ever been published. In the 1950's, Ingmar Bergman directed a Swedish student performance. A musical version, composed by Hilding Rosenberg, was broadcast in Sweden in 1954. In 1964, a German version was produced in Korbach. This translation, unpublished, is a recent one by Jonathan Howard (England), which uses an idiom that was current in Britain during the 1800s.
The title refers to Shrove Tuesday or Fet-Tisdag in Swedish, which is the last day before the 40-day fast of Lent. In some countries, this is a Carnival Day. The play is set in the churchyard of the German Church of Saint Gertrude in Stockholm and takes the form of a traditional Punch-and-Judy show. A manager and his wife uncrate an ensemble of puppets including Casper (the Northern European name for Punch), his wife Judy, their two sons, a Mexican man, an Officer, a Creditor, a Tempter and Death. The manager abuses his wife and the puppets gleefully abuse each other, torturing the Tempter and evading the Officer, all the time being wary of Death. There is apparent satire on a swirl of subjects, including dialogue with the Mexican man on political issues (with oblique references to Zapata's struggle for a more democratic regime). There are also references to the telephone, which was a racy new technology in Sweden before it was widely adopted in the States. Dialogues occasionally break into German, a language that all educated Swedes were familiar with in 1900. The play made little sense to critics of its age, who overlooked its simple practical philosophy, judging it rough and frivolous. The play actually offers three basic life lessons: (1) There are more tears in answered prayers than unanswered prayers. (2) You can't win for losing. (3) As long as you treat all people badly, nobody has any reason to complain. Director Robert Greer says, "I want the audience to laugh their heads off and go out wondering about these things."
The playscript contains the play as translated by Jonathan Howard from the Swedish national edition of Strindberg's collected work, but extensive sections are added from a missing scene of Strindberg's play, "Midsummer" (1901), which is also translated by Howard. Written a few months before "Kaspers Fet-Tisdag," "Midsummer" was a six-scene play that was cinematic in structure, anticipating a movement to come much later in the century. Its penultimate (abandoned) scene was a Punch-and-Judy show set in the park Djurgården, which is just outside downtown Stockholm. It contains the same characters as "Casper," but with different words and actions. The two plays will be merged in this production for a fuller, fatter "Casper."
"Midsummer" was written for its Punch-and-Judy characters to be played by traditional puppets and "Kaspers Fet-Tisdag" was written for them to be played by actors. This production adapts The Combined script as a sort of Commedia dell'Arte. The puppet characters will be played by ballerinas in commedia masks. Actual slap sticks will be used when blows are exchanged. The piece will be a co-production of August Strindberg Rep with The Pink Pig Ballet, whose dancers will perform the puppets. A ballet will be created for the dancers by Miro Magloire, who is Artistic Director of the New Chamber Ballet (www.newchamberballet.com) and the Strindberg Rep's balletmaster. In keeping with the absurdism of the play, it will be danced after the play's first bows.
The cast of "Casper's Fat Tuesday" will include Alexis Hopkins, Ben Houghton, Crystal Meyer, Joanna Sienkiewicz, Kate Bishop, Nadia Fischer, Natalia Sheptalova, Quimen Sanchez, Selena Hepburn and Valerie Mae Browne.