The essayist, poet, journalist, novelist, scientist, critic, and short-story writer August Strindberg is not generally known outside of Sweden, while Strindberg the dramatist is globally more luminous than ever. Eszter Szalczer knows Strindberg the dramatist and writes for an international audience. She also has a message about Strindberg and a passion for sharing it with the world. The result is August Strindberg, published in the series "Routledge Modern and Contemporary Dramatists" (2011).
The scope of the book is ambitious. There are four main parts/ sections: After a biographical overview comes a section devoted to Strindberg's "life in the theatre," then a chronological survey of his dramas, and finally a discussion of famous productions of three key plays. In the first section—part 1, "Versions of life"—the author does an admirable job of sorting out the various biographical approaches to Strindberg's works (Olof Lagercrantz, et al.), Strindberg's own more or less autobiographical novels, and the autobiographical elements in his plays. Her guide to the topic of "fiction vs. reality" with regard to Strindberg is informed, concise, and much needed.
Part 2, "A life in the theatre," is a welcome overview of Strindberg's approach to the actual stage at various times in his life. For non-Swedish readers, Szalczer has managed to condense material from numerous sources (in English, Swedish, and other languages) into a lucid discussion. (A reference to what would be an excellent companion volume to this book, namely Törnqvist and Steene's Strindberg on Drama and Theatre , is regrettably missing but could be added in a second edition. Another source that is missing is August Falck's Fem År med Strindberg .) [End Page 114]
Part 3—"Key plays"—discusses, not surprisingly, the Strindberg plays best known in the USA, such as The Father, Miss Julie, The Dance of Death, and A Dream Play. But also a number of other plays, less known outside of Sweden, are deftly surveyed, including To Damascus, the Chamber Plays, and several of the historical dramas. (The Ghost Sonata, well known to theater students all over the world, might have been given more individual attention here as it is also one of the three plays whose production history is used in part 4 to illustrate Szalczer's main argument. One also wishes that the inclusion of Dance of Death under "dream play dramaturgy"—along with A Dream Play and To Damascus—would have been more clearly motivated.)
It is, however, part 4 of the book that stands out as most valuable. Here Szalczer presents a comparative view of representative and outstanding productions of three key plays: Miss Julie, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata. (Miss Julie as the Strindberg play most performed world-wide, A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata as generally considered the most innovative.) This collection of production "snapshots" in one single volume is invaluable in providing a unique opportunity for the reader to discover unexpected angles and connections between productions. For example, Max Reinhardt's Ghost Sonata in Berlin 1916, Artaud's Dream Play in Paris 1928, Robert Lepage's and Robert Wilson's Stockholm Dream Plays (1994 and 1998 respectively), the groundbreaking racially mixed Miss Julie in Cape Town 1985, and the explicit Copenhagen production in 1992—the descriptions of these productions are treats, and the painstaking annotation guides the interested reader to further exploration.
Considering how much has already been written about Strindberg, Szalczer is to be congratulated on having found a new and valuable way of approaching him. I do, however, have some concerns/questions: regarding the use of the term "modernist," the book's structure, its intended audience, and the editorial process.
The book's overall thesis is that Strindberg's dramatic output was a response to the pressures of modernity, i.e. a new era of barely comprehensible new priorities and possibilities. Much of the unique contribution of Strindberg is credited to "modernity," and much of the discussion hinges on mantra-like phrases like "modernist experience" and "modernist sensibility" acquiring validity by repetition. The term is used throughout...