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Searching for our ideal selves in Ibsen

Stratford, CT has its Shakespeare festival; New Orleans fetes Tennessee Williams. Here in the land of ten times 10,000 Norwegians, Minnesotans need to go outside the Twin Cities to celebrate the legacy of playwright Henrik Ibsen.

1870 photo of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
1870 photo of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Wikipedia
Title character in Ibsen's play Brand
Title character in Ibsen's play Brandcommonwealtheatre.org

Starting Friday evening, April 11, 2014 through Sunday April 13, 2014, the Commonweal Theatre Company of Lanesboro, Minnesota hosts the 17th annual Ibsen Festival that according to youtube.com “celebrates Scandinavian theatre, art, music and dance!” This year’s selection from Ibsen’s works is Minnesota playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s world premiere adaptation of one of Ibsen’s most thought-provoking plays, “Brand.”

Often regarded as the counterpoint to his more famous “Peer Gynt” on such issues as freedom of will and consequences of choice, “Brand” is about a fundamentalist minister deeply committed to doing the “right thing.” An idealist, Brand never asks anyone to sacrifice themselves to his cause, but demands they accept the moral consequences of their choices without renunciation or or compromise.

Running through June 14, 2014, “Brand” is a realistic play about 19th century Europe’s “fascination with the occult, of spiritualist gurus and mediums offering ways of escaping or evading the dispiriting materialism of modern culture.” To explore concepts still pertinent to today’s society, Professor J.P. Rosensweig, founder of The Philosophy Institute: Bringing Ideas to Life, discusses what leads people to follow extreme religious leaders in his lecture “The Cult of Personality and the Threats to Authentic Religious Identity” at 10:30 a.m. on April 12, 2014.

At 1 p.m., April 12, 2014, Professor Mark Sandberg, President of the Ibsen Society of America, lectures on “Brand’s Homelessness” at the Commonweal Theater. His presentation explores the nature of “exile literature” and how it relates to Ibsen’s concept of “home” in the play.

These heavyweight discussions are leavened throughout the weekend with a variety of activities ranging from the aerobic: High Ropes Course at the Environmental Learning Center (10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 12, 2014) to the photographic: “Arctic Norway” at the Gallery at Beste Byen (all weekend) to performance art: “Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hamlet: A Comedy With Little To No Shakespeare” (11 a.m., April 13, 2013) at Commonweal Theatre Hall. The full schedule of events also listing restaurants, pastries and other edibles is available at the Theatre's website.

For folks in the Twin Cities, traveling 130 miles for a realist play by a dour Norwegian may not seem the ideal way to spend this or a subsequent spring weekend. But even a trip to Norway would be deemed inconsequential if it revealed the strengths and shortcomings of those ideals that often are claimed to be what we are.