Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Tim's review of Annapurna
But will most people like it? Probably not. I appreciated the gusto that Savadove and his crew brought to the show, but in the end I found Gint just too weird and disjointed to be fully enjoyable.
This adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (which concludes EgoPo's Ibsen season) takes Ibsen's five-hour, five-act 1876 drama and shortens it to two hours and two acts. But while it's shorter, it's still difficult to get through. Ibsen's play is a mixture of realistic and fanciful elements, and Linney's 1998 work retains those components while transplanting the action from 19th century Norway to 20th century Appalachia. Ibsen's Peer Gynt has become Linney's Pete Gint, who lies, cheats, talks like a character from Li'l Abner, and tells tall tales so outrageous that even his mother can't tell where the truth ends and the fiction begins. After Pete steals a bride for a tryst on her wedding night, he is banished to the mountains and begins an epic journey to find the meaning of life. That journey takes him from the depths of a pig sty to the glamour of Beverly Hills, as Pete ages into an elderly (but still young-looking) man. Along the way he meets professors, a Cherokee medicine man, and a man who chops his own hand off. They all teach Pete lessons about life, although after each lesson he keeps acting like a jerk.
Linney's play attempts social satire by stocking up on stereotypes, from a starlet sleeping her way to the top to mountain folk who casually piss on the ground. It's mostly obvious and crude, although there are a fair share of funny lines. At the end, weakened and beaten, Pete wonders "Am I alive? What happened to me?" He can't answer the question, and I doubt you'll be able to either.
But if Gint is kind of a mess, Savadove's production is a lovable mess. Sean Lally is terrific in the title role, giving Pete just the right mixture of earthiness, curiosity and low-key humor. Melanie Julian gives acerbic support as Pete's mother, and there's a versatile supporting cast that plays everything from hogs to cats to billionaires. The standouts are Cindy Spitko, whose rambunctious sex scene with Pete is a hoot, and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, who portrays a nutty professor with a voice like Ed Wynn's. And the entire cast performs marvelous renditions of American and Irish folk songs both throughout the play and during a pre-show concert (Christopher Marlowe Roche is the musical director). Dirk Durossette's set design uses wooden slats to suggest everything from a fence to a mountain range to a sunset, and there's creative use of lighting (Matt Sharp) and sound (David Cimetta).
There's a lot to admire in EgoPo's production of Gint, and if you give up trying to follow the plot, you can enjoy its absurdist sense of fun. But in the end I felt pummeled by the play's self-indulgence and wildly shifting tone. Still, you've got to hand it to EgoPo for going all out to make a memorable production. This show might be all over the place, but at least it's proud of it.
Gint runs through May 11, 2014 and is presented by EgoPo Classic Theater at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $22-$35 and are available by calling 267-273-1414 or online at www.EgoPo.org.