The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen, originally devised and adapted by Neo-Futurists founding director Greg Allen of Chicago and now playing at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, is an of-kilter comedy that ingeniously transforms the somber and sometimes macabre climaxes and denouements of the 26 plays completed by 19th century and early 20th century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) into a veritable laugh riot. Greg Allen employs a multiplicity of comic approaches to the Ibsen oeuvre, and Manbites Dog guest director Joseph Megel and an absolutely stellar cast put a new polish on the humorous gems in Allen’s scintillating script.
Megel, who is co-artistic director of StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance in Chapel Hill, has video screens on either side of the stage to heighten the humor by inserting odd facts—and even some jokes—into a series of slides that provide the title and date of composition of each play.
Although the show runs a bit long at two hours and 20 minutes, the award-winning director also gets crackerjack comic characterizations from Cheryl Chamblee, Jeffrey Scott Detwiler, Thaddaeus Edwards, Vince Eisenson, Katja Hill, Derrick Ivey, and Sarah Kocz, all of whom ably impersonate a series of angst-ridden Ibsen characters and put melodramatically sinister and/or sublimely silly twists on those characters’ climactic words and actions. Thus, they regularly go “over the top” to turn even the most turgid and overwrought of Ibsen’s moralistic tragedies about middle-class life in Norway into grist for the Manbites Dog comic mill.
Highlights in this superlative series of short comic sketches include African-American actor Thaddaeus Edwards’ performance in The Burial Mound, where he puts a spin that Ibsen never intended on a series of words that today have unfortunate racial overtones. In The Feast of Solhoug, Derrick Ivey and Jeffrey Scott Detwiler are a scream as they deploy jars of peanut butter and pickles and the like and squirt bottles of catsup and mustard and other condiments to reenact the climax—squirt, squirt, squirt—of a torrid love affair.
Sarah Kocz and Derrick Ivey turn Nora and Torvald’s valedictory conversation in A Doll’s House into a sitcom moment, and Vince Eisenson and Katja Hill play the final horrible confrontation between a mother and her syphilitic son in Ghosts like a vaudeville sketch. Cheryl Chamblee is likewise hysterically funny as a twitchy rat wife from an earlier scene who rudely reinserts herself in the final moments of Little Eyolf.
The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen once again gives Derrick Ivey, Katja Hill, Jeffrey Scott Detwiler, and Sarah Kocz a chance to demonstrate what consummate comedians they have become; and Cheryl Chamblee, Thaddaeus Edwards, and Vince Eisenson likewise rise to the comic occasion to give some of the finest performances of their young careers.
Scenic designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Elizabeth Grimes-Droesler, costume designer Traci Meek, and sound designer Nicholas Graetz all help heighten the show’s hilarity with their impressive creative contributions. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind comedy. You will never be able to sit through Peer Gynt, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, or The Master Builder without thinking of this glorious spoof of all things Ibsen.
Manbites Dog Theater presents The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 and 16-18, at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 and 19 at 3:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. 919/682-3343 or via tix.com at the presenter's site. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. The Neo-Futurists: http://www.neofuturists.org/ [inactive 11/07]. The Play: http://www.neofuturists.org/shows/ibsen.htm [inactive 5/07]. Henrik Ibsen: http://www.ibsen.net/?id=83 and http://www.hf.uio.no/ibsensenteret/index_eng.html [inactive 2/09].