The Epiphany returns to the beginning

The California cast of this WWII play was invited to perform in its original setting in Norway

Photo courtesy of Bruce Solheim The cast gathers on the set built for them in Åse, Norway.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Solheim
The cast gathers on the set built for them in Åse, Norway.

According to playwright Bruce Olav Solheim, “The Epiphany/Åpenbaringen theatre play is based on my family history and is set during the Nazi occupation of Norway, 1940-45. A Nazi officer moved into my grandparents’ home and they were forced to live with the enemy. My father was in a labor camp and my mother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and uncle all stayed in the house. The play is based on real events and the action of the play takes place in the same location where it was performed—the small village of Åse on the island of Andøya in Northern Norway. The play was inspired by my cousin Eva Solheim’s book, Lokkeduen og Sjøkapteinen, that told the story of my war hero uncle and my aunt who became a Nazi and was prosecuted as a war criminal. Our LA-based student actors stayed with Norwegian families. Local Norwegian actors filled out the cast. We sold out six shows (morning shows for schools and evening shows for everyone).”

Florian Haberland
Los Angeles

My name is Florian Haberland and I played the Colonel Nazi Richard Streicher in The Epiphany. It was an amazing experience!

I am from Paris, France, and have traveled a lot in Europe prior to this trip. Our first stop, Oslo, reminded me of a typical European city: big avenues, beautiful monuments, parks, etc.

The island of Andøya really surprised me though. The first impression was during our drive from the airport in Narvik to Åse, our final destination. We could admire a landscape of ocean, mountains, and forests in a big uninhabited wilderness. Even when we arrived, there were only a few houses along the main road, facing the ocean. The calm and silence of the place I was living in astonished me. I remember waking up, opening the window, and not hearing anything but the sound of some birds. Not only was there no noise but the view was almost unreal.

Coming from a city as busy as LA, the change was enormous!

Photo: Florian Haberland Florian with his host family.

Photo: Florian Haberland
Florian with his host family.

My host parents were really nice and provided us—me and my fellow actor—everything we needed, even bikes to go around. They were really happy to have us and were so welcoming.

We were a little skeptical about the food, and didn’t really know what to expect. We were even advised to bring “American” food with us, like crackers and cookies, to make sure we would eat something we like. It turned out very good and we ended up eating pizza for the first night! Our host parents prepared a very filling breakfast every morning, so there were no bad surprises at all. Their specialty of caramel cheese is yummy!

It’s funny how everybody in Andøya knew us already. I was called by my character’s name as soon as I got into the venue.

Photo: Florian Haberland A cast member poses with a poster advertising their performance.

Photo: Florian Haberland
A cast member poses with a poster advertising their performance.

Seeing the set of the house where we used to perform in LA replicated in another part of the world was incredible. The Norwegian crew did an amazing job recreating the same decor. I was also surprised by the age of some people from the crew! There were teenagers of 15 years old who helped build the set and took care of the sound and lighting. They were very good at it and seemed quite mature already.

We shared great moments and big laughs with them, even for those who weren’t speaking English. Everybody was friendly and willing to help. We felt good vibes from all the Norwegian people we worked with.

This journey was the ultimate acting experience because of the reality behind it. I saw the actual location where the play’s events happened; I got to use the real gun that the real Nazi used to carry. So it really helped me to get into the mood of the play.

Photo: Florian Haberland The actual house that the set is meant to portray, where the events inspiring The Epiphany originally took place.

Photo: Florian Haberland
The actual house that the set is meant to portray, where the events inspiring The Epiphany originally took place.

Visiting the actual house where the events of the play really happened was weird. I could feel a special atmosphere and energy inside—spirits were definitely present. Some of my fellow actors really got emotional and overwhelmed.

Our shows went very well and the feedback was always positive.

Performing in front of a young audience was new for me and I really feel that the play had an impact on them. I could hear some reactions during the play, especially when I get killed at the end. A big “YES!” was screamed! Interacting with them in answering their questions after the show was a great idea and hopefully we inspired them.

During the night shows, with an older Norwegian population, we could sense the emotion among the audience. I was told that an old woman from the front row decided not even to look at the Nazi characters, certainly for fear of triggering bad memories. It definitely provoked different reactions and shocked a lot of people.

Photo: Florian Haberland The group did have time to get out of the theater and spend a little time exploring the beautiful island of Andøya.

Photo: Florian Haberland
The group did have time to get out of the theater and spend a little time exploring the beautiful island of Andøya.

Everybody knows each other on this island and most of them were aware of the event. While on my bicycle, I would catch smiles from random people who seemed to know me or receive congratulations from people who had already watched the show.

I came to Los Angeles to focus on acting on camera more than theatre, but this experience definitely improved my ability to get into a character. Not to mention that we were featured on the national Norwegian TV and mentioned in press articles, so it was great for publicity as well.

Experiencing this whole journey with the cast, director, producer, and playwright was exceptional. It really was a team accomplishment, and being able to share the whole process with my fellow actors and friends was for me the most memorable acting experience so far!

It is April 9, 1940. The Nazis invade your country and take over your home. What would you do? Escape? Resist? Collaborate?
The Epiphany follows a heroic young woman who struggles to keep her family together against malevolent forces. During the extreme circumstances of the Occupation, she discovers the power of self-determination and free-will by embracing her indigenous Sámi lineage, revealing her true identity. Ultimately she must choose between collaboration or resistance in order to survive. The Epiphany powerfully dramatizes challenges faced and sacrifices made by everyday men and women trapped in the crucible of war and enemy occupation.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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