‘Fanny and Alexander’ at Nordic Cool 2013 at The Kennedy Center by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

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An audacious four-hour stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning feature film – Fanny and Alexander by Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater highlights the Nordic Cool 2013 Festival in its U.S. Premiere at The Kennedy Center from March 7-9, 2013.

The cast of Fanny and Alexander: Regi: Stefan Larsson,Motiv: Marie Göranzon, Josephine Alhanko, Jon Karlsson, Hans Klinga, Ellen Jelinek, Pontus Gustafsson, Basia Frydman, Christopher Wagelin, Kristina Törnqvist, Thomas Hanzon,  Kajsa Halldén, Livia Millhagen, Victor Lindblad Poturaj, Tanja Lorentzon, Jonas Karlsson, Kicki Bramberg, Jan Malmsjö, and Jennie Silfverhjelm. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
The cast of ‘Fanny and Alexander’: Regi: Stefan Larsson, Motiv: Marie Göranzon, Josephine Alhanko, Jon Karlsson, Hans Klinga, Ellen Jelinek, Pontus Gustafsson, Basia Frydman, Christopher Wagelin, Kristina Törnqvist, Thomas Hanzon, Kajsa Halldén, Livia Millhagen, Victor Lindblad Poturaj, Tanja Lorentzon, Jonas Karlsson, Kicki Bramberg, Jan Malmsjö, and Jennie Silfverhjelm. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Startling as it may seem, I enjoyed this live version of Fanny and Alexander as much as I do the film – perhaps even more – and I ADORE the Academy Award- winning film.

Yes, It is that good. Ingmar Bergman’s genius is undeniable.

This exquisite production of Fanny and Alexander explores the themes of imagination and dreams, God and faith, truth and justice. Death, magic, and ghosts loom as a subtext.

Drawing you into the character’s inner state as if looking through a mirror, Director Steffan Larson is a visionary and has done a masterful job of taking a film (which is also a novel) and bringing it to life on the stage with witty style and panache. The cast is a stellar ensemble of talents that are infectious.There are not just one or two standout performances to highlight. Every single one of the nineteen actors brings joy to the stage, and a raw enthusiasm and intensity to their individual roles that I have never seen collectively accomplished by a single theatrical production.

Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre and this lavish theatrical version energized me as an inspired reminder of everything I admire about Bergman’s work and surprisingly, what I love about Scandinavian film. This exhilarating cast of actors are electrifying, breathing life into every scene full of emotional exposure, truth, and joy for the profession. There is always an emotional honesty, humanity, and reality within those films. I love them, and this infectious production is more of that same spirit.

Fanny and Alexander made my heart sing. The fours hours flew by before I knew it. (I wasn’t even thinking about the clock. It was like a great book that you never want to finish. My only regret is that I’m going to be out of town this weekend and won’t get to see it again; because I would gladly pay to surround myself with the beauty of this production once again.

Recognized as one of the greatest film directors in cinematic history, for three years (1963–1966) Ingmar Bergman was also the Managing Director of Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. In 1984, Fanny and Alexander won four Academy Awards and was nominated in six categories, including Best Director (Ingmar Bergman) and Best Foreign Language Film, which it won.

Bergman’s work and this production of Fanny and Alexander is defined by passionate intensity, emotional authenticity, and the ability to create mood and the psychological states of the characters. A master at depicting suffering, the great auteur intended the film version of Fanny and Alexander to be his last feature, although he wrote several screenplays afterward and directed a number of TV specials. Having written most of the films he directed, he is as distinguished as a writer as he has a director.

It’s fair to say that Fanny and Alexander is his most personal of his feature films because it is based on he and his sister Margareta’s unhappy childhood.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, 1907–09 (with an epilogue in 1910), this epic drama harmonizes three generations of the Ekdahl family, led by matriarch, Helena Ekdahl (Marie Goranzon), and the life of the theater. Oscar Ekdah (Thomas Hanzon), the oldest son, and his wife run a local theater and inspire the fanciful imaginations of their children. The spirit of Christmas is alive and all is well. Family, friends, and theater – what could be better? Life is good – it’s least at appears to be.

Christmas cheer with the well-to-do Ekdhall family and their theater friends opens the show. But soon after, the splendor of their happy home is shattered. Faithful to the film, the play follows the misfortunes of the Ekdahl family, and in particular the two children of Oscar and Emelie Ekdahl (Livia Millhagen) – Fanny (Kajsa Hallden) and Alexander (Hannes Alin).

After a tragic turn of events, the two siblings are thrust into a nightmare. Gloom, the alienation and cruel punishments by the severe stepfather, and his overzealous “discipline” of religion and the Lutheran faith is the new world the they find themselves struggling to survive. Interestingly, Bergman’s own father was a pastor.

Is it Divine intervention or the appeal to God for his mercy and saving grace from a cruel world? Or, it chance? Does any one truly believe in coincidence and the the unexpected “good” turn of events? What does it all mean?

We often question why do bad things happy to good people, but how are we personally affected when bad things happen to the “evil” people who wreck havoc on out lives? Fanny & Alexander is a revelation to one such experience. Is it God’s will or is it wishful thinking? The hand of God works in mysterious way and the Lord’s Wonders never cease to amaze.

Yes, this is Bergman, but it’s not all serious drama some might expect.

While the overall story is a building, continual, thought-provoking happening, the brilliance of this delivered evening of theater is that it doesn’t feel heavy or depressing. There are fun moments, and a healthy serving of blissful, cheeky entertainment with the quick moving, sex farce elements. I found myself laughing out loud often.

Set Designer Rufus Didwiszus’ magical rotating three-piece double-sided stage set also lightens the tension by keeping the pacing forward, allowing for scene changes, prop exchanges, and help to the actors with their wardrobe transformations in and out of their multiple roles throughout.

The fable inspired costuming by Nina Sandstrom (The three-member wigs and makeup team of three is terrific as well) and the effective lighting design by Torben Lendorph all contribute to the rhythmic flow, and accepting ease of this epic tale and creating a comforting since of familiarity and concern with the Ekdahl family and the dramatic outcome.

This is also one production member that I have to give a shout out to – Stage Manager Tomas Wennerberg, who has his hands full orchestrating the nearly 240 minutes, coming and goings of this 19 character cast to perfection.

I can’t say enough about the magnetism, beauty, and elegance of this production that will forever leave a lasting imprint on my memory.

Reality may bite, but the life and dramatics of Fanny and Alexander is a real treat. This is great theater!

Cheers!

Regi: Stefan Larsson Motiv: Marie Göranzon, Leona Ekman Larson, Reine Brynolfsson, Kristina Törnqvist, Christopher Wagelin, Thomas Hanzon, Jonas Karlsson, Tanja Lorentzon, and Livia Millhagen. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Regi: Stefan Larsson Motiv: Marie Göranzon, Leona Ekman Larson, Reine Brynolfsson, Kristina Törnqvist, Christopher Wagelin, Thomas Hanzon, Jonas Karlsson, Tanja Lorentzon, and Livia Millhagen. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Running Time: Approximately three hours and twenty minutes, with a 20-minute intermission. In Swedish with English supertitles.

Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater’s Fanny and Alexander has one more performance – tomorrow night March 9, 2013 at 7:30 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater as part of the Nordic Cool 2013 Festival. Purchase tickets here. For more information on future Nordic Cool 2013 Festival events, visit their website.


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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]