Fosse’s “Someone is Going to Come” Premiers in Washington

Norwegian play premieres in Washington in embassy-sponsored workshop event

Photo: Nanna Ingvarsson, who played SHE.

Nanna Ingvarsson, who played SHE.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

SHE: In this house we shall be together
You and I
Alone together

HE: And no one is going to come

Calling Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse a minimalist is an understatement. The adjective most often used for the dialogue and the action in his plays is “sparse.” His characters employ a simple and limited vocabulary and continually repeat themselves. They don’t “do” very much.

Photo courtesy of Scena Jon Fosse, the playwright.

Photo courtesy of Scena
Jon Fosse, the playwright.

But what his plays lack in breadth, they certainly make up for in depth. His simplicity is deceiving. Upon reflection, theatergoers realize that they must think about what Fosse is trying to say before they can fully enjoy his plays. And they may reach different conclusions. But does it really matter?

Scena Theatre in Washington, D.C., presented the Washington premiere of Fosse’s “Someone is Going to Come” on October 6. The Royal Norwegian Embassy sponsored the event, a workshop production followed by a Talkback and Reception with the director and the actors.

The play was presented in the rehearsal room of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. With its gray block walls, it seemed more of a bunker (as the director pointed out) than a production stage. The set consisted solely of folding chairs which, depending on their configuration, represented either the exterior or one of the rooms in the house. The three actors read their lines from scripts.

One wonders whether the set was actually sufficient as it was. In a regular performance, would more furniture or props on the stage add or distract from the play itself?

Was the reading from scripts distracting? Surprisingly, it was not. The scripts seemed to center one’s attention more on the faces and voices of the actors. Nanna Ingvarsson, who played the role of SHE, and David Bryan Jackson, who played HE, were very effective in their use of facial expressions and voice modulations. When they moved, their actions seemed mechanical and, therefore, the audience paid more attention to their words than to their movements.

Photo: David Bryan Jackson, who played HE.

David Bryan Jackson, who played HE.

The plot of this play is straightforward enough. HE and SHE have just bought a house by the sea in a remote area so they can be alone together. Why they sought seclusion is not obvious but hints can be found in the dialogue. One compelling reason is jealousy. Had HE been involved with another she? Had SHE been involved with someone else? Or did they simply want to get away from society? Norwegians seem to cherish solitude.

HE and SHE both seem satisfied initially with their decision to relocate, but SHE soon begins to have her doubts. She says that the place is not exactly as she expected it to be (the sea is so big) and wouldn’t it be a bit lonely? HE tries to convince her that everything will be all right, but then MAN (played by Ron Wood) arrives. No one was supposed to come; this was their greatest dread. MAN’s appearance causes HE to go into an immediate tailspin as he fears that SHE might find the intruder attractive.

Toward the end of the play, HE laughs to himself and says, as if their dream is over, “And we only wanted to be with each other.” But then his final words are:
We shall always be
alone together
in each other

Alone together
alone in each other

[He laughs coarsely.]

The Talkback after the performance was very animated. Director Robert McNamara drew attention to the house itself as a mythic concept. He feels that the play represents a journey through this house, which means something different to each of the characters. Is it, he asked, the Promised Land or the Unpromised Land? In any case, it becomes a battleground.

Both the actors and audience participants sought to compare Fosse with other playwrights, for example, Ibsen, Becket, and Pinter. But McNamara emphasized that Fosse is fighting for his own voice and cannot be readily compared with others.

Jon Fosse has written over 30 plays (as well as novels, short stories, children’s books, and essays) and is considered one of the world’s greatest contemporary playwrights. He has had 900 productions staged in more than 40 languages. He is popular around the world but he has yet to have a breakthrough in English-speaking countries. Productions in the U.S. are rare, but this may change as innovative theater companies with an international focus like Scena boldly present his works.

Fosse has been honored in a remarkable way in his homeland. In 2011, the King of Norway granted him the Grotten, an honorary residence located on the grounds of the Royal Palace in the center of Oslo. This recognition is given to a person who has made significant contributions to Norwegian arts and culture.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.