The Brooklyn Academy of Music has had a long and fruitful relationship with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, presenting his films as well as stage productions over the decades. Among the plays Bergman directed at BAM were A Doll’s House, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Miss Julie, The Ghost Sonata, Maria Stuart, and Ghosts, and shortly after his death BAM put together a stellar lineup of actors to read from his diary, including Bibi Andersson, Pernilla August, Lena Olin, and Peter Stormare. BAM and the late auteur continue their collaboration this week with the U.S. premiere of Toneelgroep Amsterdam multimedia adaptation of Bergman’s 1972 intense family drama Cries and Whispers, which starred Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, and Liv Ullmann. The Dutch company, led by director Ivo van Hove, has previously adapted such cinematic gems as John Cassavetes’s Faces, Husbands, and Opening Night and Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers and Ludwig in addition to classic works by Shakespeare, Molière, Williams, Hellman, O’Neill, Ibsen, Chekhov, Pinter, and others. Cries and Whispers features scenography by Jan Versweyveld, dramaturgy by Peter van Kraaij, video design by Tal Yarden, costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic, and sound design by Roeland Fernhout, all coming together for what looks to be an appropriately complex and moving experience.
Update: Ivo van Hove paints a harrowing, brutal, yet ultimately strangely comforting portrayal of death in Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s intense and, at times, inexplicable Cries and Whispers, running at BAM’s Harvey Theater through October 29. Liberally adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s 1972 film — the company previously staged Bergman’s epic, documentary-like Scenes from a Marriage — this multimedia version turns the protagonist, Agnes (an immensely brave Chris Nietvelt), into a visual artist who is recording her final days, evoking Hannah Wilke’s “Intra-Venus” project. Jan Versweyveld’s stunning set contains mirrors, video screens, television monitors, a drop-down white surrounding wall, reflective glass, and multiple rooms in a mansion where Agnes is being cared for by her sisters, Karin (Janni Goslinga) and Maria (Helina Reijn), and her attending nurse, Anna (Karina Smulders). The pain Agnes feels is physically and emotionally palpable, echoing throughout the theater, especially when she releases an ear-piercing, shattering death howl as an overhead camera swings like a pendulum counting down her last breaths. The twelve silent minutes that follow are mesmerizing — and the show is still barely half over at that point. Although van Hove offers snippets of the other characters’ lives, not enough is learned about them, and there is a heavy dose of nudity, both male and female, that seems titillating but not always necessary. And some viewers might need a stronger stomach when Agnes takes care of some unpleasant bodily functions in plain view. Van Hove has added personal touches to the story, influenced by the death of his own father, who died in 2007, the same year as Bergman. The white color scheme is offset by Agnes’s blue paint and videos, providing a stark contrast that pays homage to Sven Nykvist, who won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his camerawork on the film version. Van Hove recently told Gothamist that he’ll be back at BAM with an even bigger production for the 2012 Next Wave Festival; we can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeves for that.