Monthly Archives: May 2010

Clurman Theatre’s “Master Builder..”

Photo features Sarah Stockton as Miss Hilda Wangel and Chris Ceraso as Halvard Solness, The Master Builder

In the mood for a sick and twisted drama?  No reason to pay a visit to your local Blockbuster, just drop by the Clurman Theatre on West 42nd’s Theatre Row and check out Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder, starring Chris Ceraso and Sarah Stockton.  As one-half of Resonance Ensemble’s 2010 season entitled “Building Characters,” The Master Builder, directed beautifully by Eric Parness, Artistic Director of Resonance Ensemble, a group whose core mission is producing both classical and modern plays with resonate universal themes, tells the tragic story of an aged architect, Halvard Solness, whose is forced against his will to face not only his past, but his future and his imminent demise.


D1. I take my seat.  It’s a quaint, darkly lit theatre.  Classical music, bringing you back to a time where a Phantom was considered the pinnacle of modern transportation, plays lightly in the background.  The crinkling of my neighbors Playbill, the chatter of excitement before the lights go up, the buzz of a hopeful night hang in the air.  No curtains block the view of the staged set.  It’s simple.  A few chairs, including a lounge, and two desks.  It tells me already that this play is about the text, about what the author has to say and also that the director, Eric Parness, has honored the late Ibsen by not muddling up the stage with useless props.  The lights dim as the first actors appear on stage.  My favorite part.  Even before the first character, Knut Brovik, an elderly former architect employed by Mr. Solness, who is artfully played by Peter Judd (The Cherry Orchid, T. Schreiber Studio), speaks I tip my imaginary hat to Costume Designer Sidney Shannon as her dressings for Ibsen’s characters are remarkably on point with late 19th Century garb.  All the characters, young and old, are dressed to the nines in costumes that suit their character’s personality and age.  Mrs. Solness, played by the talented Susan Ferrara(Darger, The Cherry Orchard), in her high collared, dark colored, Victorian dress reflects accurately a traditional elder woman in dire straits.  While Miss Hilda Wangel, youth incarnate, played perfectly by Sarah Stockton(Time of Your Life, Caesar and Cleopatra), prances on stage in an alluring below the knee skirt which accurately depicts not only her sense of independence, but a time in which fashion began to change.  And not to make a big deal about the costumes, but I find to be able to properly produce a play, whether classical or modern, it is not just important to have a talented cast, but to have appropriate costumes and sets.  How else would you make a play come full circle?  If Ibsen’s characters were frolicking around in ripped jeans and baby doll shirts, I assure you that the play would not have as great an impact on you.

Now, to speak to the talent, is the easy part.  From the moment the lights dimmed and Peter Judd began, his voice rumbling wearily out into the audience, depicting a sick man, who at the end of his life yearns only for the success of his son, I knew talent would not be in short supply.  Even though Judd and the other actors who appear first on stage do not play huge speaking roles throughout the course of the  play, they make their presence clearly known and their relationships which they have with the main characters play an important part in the fate of Mr. Halvard Solness.  If you think about it, a play also cannot be successful if those who play the minor roles, the parts which create the strong base for the play’s succession, were not invested in even the shortest of dialogue, the shortest of appearance on stage.  Judd, along with Pun Bandhu (Yellow Face, Caesar and Cleopatra), who plays the role of Ragnar Brovik, a draftsman and Judd’s characters son, and Jennifer Gawlik (Ghosts, Toys in the Attic), who is the book-keeper for Solness, Kaia, all convincingly portray their character’s wants and needs and through this effectively bind themselves to Solness.  It is through Ragnar and Kaia, an engaged couple, that we see the bitterness and the true form of the Master Builder, Halvard Soleness.  His cunning trickery witnessed through his inability to let Ragnar led his own life, that is become a full architect, for a desire to keep the boy’s ideas to himself, to oppress the youth that will eventually take his place.  And also, through the demented love scene, that is as much as a love scene can be in the prudish world of the late 1800’s, between him and Kaia.  And though, in retrospect Gawlik played a strong Kaia, willful, somewhat independent, and all of the naive girl, my only critcism came when she and Chris Cesaro(On the Road to Ruin, Ceasar and Cleopatra), Halvard Solness, had this love scene.  It was a bit unconvincing and awkward and I found it to be the only part which fell out  and seemed to rely on memorization rather than skill.

To make amends however, enter the comical Doctor Herdal, played by Brian Coats (Two Gentleman of Verona, Merchant of Venice) and Aline Solness, played by the fore mentioned Susan Ferrara.  These two characters are perhaps my favorite in the entire show.  While the two main characters Halvard Solness and Hilda Wangel are of course the focus of Isben’s Master Builder, Aline Solness, to me, is the heart of the play and the Doctor, a well needed comic relief.  Watching Ferrara play the emotionally drained and depressed Aline Solness was like witnessing what it must have been like to see Kim Stanley in Anton Checkhov’s The Three Sisters or Laurette Taylor in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Ferrara never once drops out of character and delivers a performance which still as I’m writing this is haunting.  Never have I seen such power in one actor, such drive to speak to the true essence of her character.  A woman, binded only by marriage to a man who has betrayed her in every aspect.  The power of Ferrara is undeniable and her depiction of Aline Solness perfection in every aspect.

Oh, and did I mention that you meet all of these fabulous characters within the first 30 minutes?  And if that isn’t overwhelming enough, if the drama of dying architects, betrayed wives, and love-starved youth haven’t already captivated your imagination, then when you meet Miss Hilda Wangel, played by the uber talented Sarah Stockton, that is exactly what will happen.  It is when this force, this young girl blasts on stage that the play turns upside down and our architect is forced to face his past.  And while Cesaro has been playing a colorful and emotional Solness, true to Isben’s text, it is with the appearance of Stockton that we see his character breath.  Stockton with her first step on stage demands her audiences attention.  Her full of life, independent character radiates through her and for me, as an actor, it is inspiring.   Her spritely spirit, a bit twisted as the audience will come to find out, only makes you want to keep watching and the twisted web which she spins in the two days with Solness makes for an interesting evening.  Cesaro, playing off of Stockton’s flawless acting, portrays a brooding, selfish, and love blinded man who by Hilda is driven to the brink of insanity.  Cesaro speaks forceful and clear in his delivery of text and like Stockton, keeps the audience eating out of his hands.  He makes you forget that Solness is but a character of Ibsen’s imagination and that what you see in front of you is the result of hours of rehearsal.  His performance, along with Stockton and the cast is flawless and as a result, unforgettable.

All in all, this play is a must see.  With its twisted characters and interesting plot points it is amazingly poignant in today’s world. Beautifully directed with heartfelt investment by Eric Parness it begs for attention.  I promise, I am not always one to see classical plays, but for this I make an exception.  I left satisfied, full of reflection, and entertained.  What more could you ask for?  And even better, to follow up to this magnificent play, I have recently seen the second half of the ensemble’s repertory season, Glass House, by June Finfer, directed by Evan Bergman, which is similar in many aspects, honing in on the same ideas, even the same occupations.  I felt as if I have come full circle with seeing both plays and strongly urge theatre goers to not just see Master Builder, but to see the modern play Glass House, as the full ideas of both with undoubtedly and unmistakably be made crystal clear.

Photo features Chris Ceraso as Halvard Solness, The Master Builder and Susan Ferrara as his wife Aline

Show information:

The Master Builder, written by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Eric Parness


Pun Bandhu…Ragnar Brovik
Chris Ceraso…Halvard Solness, The Master Builder
Brian D. Coats…Doctor Herdal
Susan Ferrara…Aline Solness
Jennifer Gawlik…Kaia
Peter Judd…Knut Brovik

Sarah Stockton…Miss Hilda Wangel


Scenic Design: Jo Winiarski
Costume Design: Sidney Shannon
Lighting Design: Pamela Kupper
Sound Design: Nick Moore
Projection Design: Daniel Heffernan
Props Design: Kristin Costa
Stage Manager: Sean McCain
Production Manager: Joe Doran
Master Electrician: Flora Vassar
Press Relations: Joe Trentacosta

Photos by Jon Kandel

LAST PERFORMANCE JUNE 5TH!! Go to Ticket Central to get your ticket now for $18 or buy at Box Office at Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd)!

Performance schedule is as follows:




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