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A CurtainUp Review

The Summer In Gossensass

If you're not familiar with the work of Henrik Ibsen generally and Hedda Gabler in particular, this idiosyncratic play by the versatile Maria Irene Fornes is probably going to keep you in a state of confusion. I do know and admire Ibsen and his ruthless and unhappy heroine but this talky lecture of a play only made me regret that I didn't catch last fall's much praised production of Hedda by the excellent Jean Cocteau Repertory.

I suppose you could fit this within the rubric of what George Bernard Shaw called "discussion play" but even as such, its ambition outstrips its accomplishments. As with anything Ms. Fornes undertakes, there are accomplishments:

The basic idea of exploring the themes of friendship, playwriting and character interpretation -- with details about old copyright laws tossed in for good measure -- is thought provoking.

There's also one enlightening and amusing scene. In it Molly Powell, as Elizabeth Robins and Clea Rivera as her colleague and friend Marion Lea try to get an artistic handle on the characters from the only two pages available in English. Their fragment of a script was surreptitiously retrieved by Marian from the waste basket of the theater where rehearsals are underway with the king's mistress Lily Langtry playing the part Robins covets.

Donald Eastman's handsome set once again demonstrates how much can be accomplished in a small space.

These accomplishments aside, Summer at Gossensass is less a play than an amorphous assemblage of conversations. Even the title's allusion to the summer retreat in the alps where Ibsen romanced a woman said to be the inspirational source for Hedda Gabler, is lost in the muddle.

Daniel Blinkoff who gave such a superb performance as the brother who forfeits his dream for a life at sea for love and marriage in last fall's revival of Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon (see Link at end of review) brings a few minutes of life to the otherwise endless two hours. But even this sensitive actor is hobbled in the part here assigned to him. His interchange with Lady Bell (Valda Setterfield), the elder ""satesman" in this thespian friendship circle, tries to draw a connection between acting and medicine but instead adds yet another theme to this already overstuffed but under-dramatic play. What Blinkoff does clarify is that if you strained to hear the actresses conversation before his arrival on stage, it wasn't your hearing but their failure to project their voices.

(As an aside to the above mention of Mr. Blinkoff's appearance in Beyond the Horizon, the bookish young man at the center of another O'Neill play, Ah, Wilderness, also views Ibsen as one of his heroes. When at one point he dramatically exclaims "Oh, Hedda where is your gun?"" the audience at the performance I attended laughed appreciatively -- as most of the audience at Summer at Gossensass did not. Even if someone was unfamiliar with O'Neill's allusion, its meaning was clear, whereas Ms. Fornes seems to be addressing an exclusive club).

I did like Gabriel Berry's costumes. Yet, when towards the end we see Ms. Powell in a charming gown that reveals her to be quite slim, you wonder why Ms. Berry chose to dress her in robes that make her look quite statuesque. This might have been the style, but since the other two actresses were allowed to look slim and trim, why this appearance of beautiful gowns cleverly camouflaging what turns out to be non-existing heft.

Links to Other Plays Mentioned
Beyond the Horizon
Ah Wilderness

Written and directed by Maria Irene Fornes
With Molly Powell, Clea Rivera,Valda Setterfield, Daniel Blinkoff and Joseph Goodrich
Set: Donald Eastman
Lighting: Philip Widmer
Costumes: Gabriel Berry
Women's Project and Productions. Anderson, 422 W. 42d St. (279-4200)
3/31/98-4/26/98; opening 4/07/98
Reviewed 4/09/98 by Elyse Sommer

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