THE MASTER BUILDER
In this first decade of the 21st Century, during this all too important election, we have shifted much of our national concern from a battle of ideals to a tense reassessment of resources. I confess, it's a tangential comparison at best, but The Irish Repertory Theater's production of Ibsen's "The Master Builder" alights on (and dampens) many of these themes. Here we have the builder named Halvard Solness, played by a gruff James Naughton, unable to pass the torch onto a new generation. Solness says that he fears the young for they eat up the old. It's this idea of trying to have some permanency and the confusions between glorifications of the self versus those for the people that stand at the center of the play. Really, it's much more than that. Ibsen's play is complex filled with a myriad of themes, many of which are presented with the utmost clarity. The production as whole though falters due mostly to the inept performance of Mr. Naughton.
He brings his bellowing voice to the part, able to command and inquire with earnest, but unable to find the nuances of the part. His performance quickly becomes staid, static, and one note, so much so that by the second act and on towards the climax, there is no tension any longer. I simply wanted the show to reach its foregone conclusion. A telltale sign of Mr. Naughton's insecurity with the part, and perhaps a dash of confusion, might have been the way he chronically kept dropping lines and jumping on others. There was no real presence to his part. Rather, the effect might be said to a stumppole around which the other actors are allowed to show their best work. He plays the part with competence but without warmth, vulnerability, or subtlety.
On the other hand, Hilde, the antagonist and temptress to Halvard, as played by Charlotte Parry, is a firecracker performance. It's almost enough to whole-heartedly recommend the production to people in spite of her counterparts misgivings. With that said, Ms. Parry high energy might be perceived as forced or disjointed without the necessary give and take from her Halvard. Still, she does a commendable job of being an ingenue, a temptress, an innocent, a confessor, an inciter, etc. with such whole heartedness. It's not an easy part to tackle and she does so admirably. Also of note is Kristin Griffith as the the dutiful and stern Aline Solness. Ms. Griffith brings the necessary concern and coldness in tow with a desperation and even fragility to the part.
Ciaran O'Reilly's direction is serviceable with some great choices made for the overall vision of the production. The costumes as designed by Linda Fisher are beautiful and highly suggestive of the period. The set design by Eugene Lee is as great as the costumes. With that said, all of these elements never seem to reach a level of cohesion, which begs the question of whether or not we can place all the blame on a poor lead actor. A month or two ago, I was in a position to review a show where the lead actress was wonderful but the production elements weren't up to snuff. Whatever the case may be, despite so many things going for it, this production of "The Master Builder" suffers the same tragedy as that of its protagonist: it reaches for great heights but ultimately falters.
Click here to buy group tickets.