Ostermeier does it again with Ibsen
«What do you do when you realize that you are not treading on solid ground but feel your life is empty? Or what is the point of happiness when it is tied up with security? In a way, we are obsessed with mediocrity. And this is how we end up living in a barren country, without any political or personal vision. That’s what happens with Ibsen,» said the gifted stage director Thomas Ostermeier, who will be translating these views into action on the stage tonight, tomorrow and Thursday at the Hellenic Festival’s Pireos 260 venue. The artistic director of Berlin’s Schaubuhne (he took up the post in 1999, at just 29) has presented some of the most provocative, subversive and enticing shows of recent European theater, drawing material from current affairs and human drama in urban settings. Ostermeier’s «Nora (A Doll’s House)» is not set, like Ibsen’s classic, in 19th century Norway, but in the Berlin loft of a young yuppie couple, complete with signature furniture, sliding doors and a fish tank. The characters speak a language with all the modern vernacular (a new translation played a key role in this) and display erratic, illogical and rather shallow behavior. The characters explore their own personal deadlocks to reach the final, surprising conclusion, which is different from Ibsen’s original. Ostermeier finds himself at the opposite end of the spectrum from his predecessor, and one of the Schaubuhne’s founders, Peter Stein, who always stays true to original plays and rejects their modernization. The difference in opinion between the two directors is frequently alluded to (though discreetly) in interviews by both artists. Stein, for example has stated in the past that intervening in a piece of writing is «the biggest mistake a person can make,» arguing that theater cannot be modernized by using the tools of television. Ostermeier is more flexible on this issue, saying that he likes his productions to become topics of conversation and while some may not agree with what he does, it will certainly have an emotional resonance. On the subject of Ibsen’s play, Ostermeier said: «The play was written at a time when woman’s liberation was at a very primal stage, where a woman leaving her husband was very revolutionary. Today, at least in Germany, two-thirds of couples separate. That is why I believed that the text, as well as the production, had to be adapted to the modern day.» This is not the first time that Ostermeier has taken this approach. He has done so before with Ibsen, in «Hedda Gabler,» with Georg Buchner’s «Woyzeck» and more recently with Eugene O’Neill’s «Mourning Becomes Electra.» «I do not aim for extracting the usual response from my audiences,» said Ostermeier. «I cannot make myself work in this direction when my obsessions lead me elsewhere.» For information, see What’s On.