Contemporary Scandinavian authors and filmmakers can thank the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen for putting Nordic artists on the map. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the British television crime series Wallander are two examples of Scandinavia's contemporary presence in popular culture. But Ibsen's The Wild Duck has some of the same elements as the current crime thrillers and was written more than a century ago. Infidelity, deception and an untimely death are all included in what TheatreWorks' artistic director Murray Ross describes as a "brilliant piece of tight craftsmanship."
Not surprisingly, Wild Duck wasn't initially well-received by audiences when it was performed in 1885. Ibsen was known for writing plays that confronted aspects of Norwegian society and behavior that made people uncomfortable: "He put a mirror in front of them and when they looked in it they didn't really want to see themselves," Ross says.
At the beginning of the play, a family seems to be living together quite happily until an old friend drops by for a visit and, "When that knock on the door comes, you know that there's trouble coming into the room."
The family consists of a mother, a father, a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather. So far, so good. But the daughter came from an affair the mother had with her former employer when she was a young servant at his house. Not wanting anyone to know about his philandering, the boss arranged a marriage between the servant and one of his son's friends. The groom, not knowing about his wife's pregnancy, raised the child as his own daughter after her birth.
For 14 years, the wife has kept the identity of her daughter a secret until a compulsively honest friend, the son of the wealthy merchant who married off his servant, reveals the child's true identity. The result of the truth-telling has disastrous consequences.
Ibsen is second only to Shakespeare in terms of how often his plays are performed, and Ross says Wild Duck is regarded by many as his masterpiece. And with Scandinavia's cultural resurgence, "Ibsen should be part of that since he's the greatest of them all."