Theatre Kingston tackles Ibsen play

Elena Juatco appears in a modernized version of a rarely produced ‘great work’

Juatco received a prestigious Dora nomination last spring.
Juatco received a prestigious Dora nomination last spring.
Credit: 
Supplied

What happens when you celebrate the centenary of playwright Henrik Ibsen’s death? Scholars publish
commemorative volumes, a few Norwegians get drunk and Theatre Kingston puts on Ibsen’s The
Master Builder
.

“Sometimes the excitement [of Ibsen’s productions] is lost in the mirth of the words and period,” said Craig Walker, Theatre Kingston’s artistic director.

“When we wade through the ‘crud’—the difficult nature of the translations and the dated Victorian
language—that excitement is born anew.”

Such is the case with The Master Builder, a play that Walker said is “unequivocally regarded
as one of the great works,” yet consistently avoided as a result of its challenging nature.

Examining the selfaggrandizement of an overambitious architect, the play tells the story of a desperate and tyrannical man who becomes frantic after the realization that his inspiration is fading. While fear and guilt consume him, a woman from his past strolls back into his life, twisting the tale in a suspenseful and surreal way.

Theatre Kingston, entering its 17th year as one of Kingston’s most celebrated theatre companies, has always added a taste of professionalism to a local theatre scene crowded with community shows. For almost a decade, the company has been under the artistic direction of Walker, who is also head of the Queen’s drama department. Not one to shy away from creative involvement in productions, Walker frequently lends his talents as a director, which he has chosen to do in this tribute to the Norwegian playwright.

“Ibsen has always fascinated me,” Walker said, “and it gave me something to wrestle with.”

Walker has chosen an updated version of the 19th century psychological suspense, contemporizing the language and setting with the goal of allowing the play to move more briskly and appeal to a modern audience.

“Old translations sink under the weight of the verbosity,” Walker said, “and we wanted a version that
could emphasize these dramatic scenes … People will not feel that they had to go through duty, there
will be no boredom.”

The production will also showcase a variety of notable actors, including the multi-talented Elena Juatco, ArtSci ’07. Walker hoped to work with Juatco before she finished her Queen’s degree and thought that the character of Hilda was “a great role for her to play.”

Juatco, who is probably best known for her sixth-place finish on the second season of Canadian
Idol, makes her Theatre Kingston debut with The Master Builder. In addition to performing in campus
productions—Queen’s Players, the Vagina Monologues, and last year’s winter major, Variations on X and Y we float—Juatco was nominated for a Dora award for her portrayal of Snow White in Snow White and the Group of Seven, which ran in Toronto last winter.

“The reason I came back to Kingston was to be challenged and work on my art,” Juatco told the Journal. She said she was attracted to the production by Walker’s intent to recreate Ibsen for a contemporary audience.

She hopes the performance will convey “just how exciting and insightful Ibsen still is. “I’m really excited to see people’s reactions and I have no idea how they’ll take it,” she said.

Playing the role of architect Harvard Solness will be Theatre Kingston stalwart Matthew Gibson.
With such a talented cast, Walker thinks that this show will be a showcase for “the best acting that’s available in this city.”

“This [production] is something that’s extremely challenging, and something that demands a lot from the actors,” Juatco said. “It’s not comparable to anything else I’ve been in or seen.”

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