Play review: Then Silence asks difficult questions
What is torture? What is the difference between words and thoughts? What is freedom? Is happiness possible? Are there entirely pure smiles?
The search for answers to eternal questions is at the center of Then Silence, Arne Lygre’s contemporary Norwegian Off Broadway play, which opened on June 4 at the Lion Theater in New York, directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde.
The cast of three characters Another (Morten Holst), One (Kwasi Osei), and Brother (Christiane Julie Seidel) tells a series of short stories “about humanity and its struggles with power, domination, loss, mortality, and ultimately survival.” They start off with a game of pool, but soon they see “two men at a distance from two other men.” One describes two people torturing another. Bright lights flash and the supple trio becomes the victim and the torturers.
As the play progresses, subjects of these stories include questions of bullying, a woman who thinks she is better at everything, loss of a baby, the secrets that lovers keep from each other, and the rising inescapable water levels.
The scenes change and the stakes shift, but the storytelling structure stays the same. The three characters are observers as well as people they are observing. The cast switches a tremendous amount of identities throughout the play. The dramatic vignettes are followed by comedic ones, transitioning with bright lights, sound effects, and the leitmotif: “A man at a distance from two other men.”
Seidel, who has appeared in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as Sigrid Mueller opposite Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, is sensational. Among her standout characters in Then Silence are a gay man who is caught cheating on his partner and a squad commander. Wherever she was on stage, my eyes kept searching for her and looking at her. A mesmerizing girl.
Holst, a Danish actor who was nominated for the Bodil award in Denmark, plays the role of Another. This actor shows up most vividly as an old lady and a part of the political squad.
As directed by Sunder (who has previously directed Jon Fosse plays) Then Silence is remarkable for the clarity with which it moves from scene to scene. The lighting and sound directors, Derek Van Heel and Brenda Bauer, are responsible for striking effects that create the visual and sound transitions.
The play was previously staged in Norway, Denmark, and England. After the premiere, Lygre told me that an American audience laughs at very different scenes than audiences in other countries where the play was shown. A lot depends on actors’ performances, he said, and spectators find completely different scenes humorous.
Produced by Scandinavian American Theater Company (SATC), Then Silence clearly earned the buzz among Scandinavians living in New York Tri-State area, as the theater was completely full at the premiere of this Off Broadway play.
Then Silence is playing at New York’s Lion Theater 410 West 42nd Street until June 19. You can find tickets and more information on the Scandinavian American Theater Company’s website: www.satcnyc.org/#!then-silence-1/xt9a8.
Julia Andersen is a freelance writer based in New York. She is a Columbia University graduate and has a particular affection for Scandinavian films.
This article originally appeared in the June 17, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.