‘A Night of Strindberg’ tackles masculinity and gender relationships

Starting with August Strindberg’s 1889 one act play The Stronger, and featuring Per Olov Enquist’s 1975 The Night of the Tribades, the Portland State School of Theater + Film’s A Night of Strindberg explores the personal events and attitudes that influenced the celebrated Swedish playwright’s work—namely his estranged wife’s affair with another woman and his own misogyny.

“It’s the type of thing you probably wouldn’t see, except at a university, which is why we should be doing it,” said Richard Wattenberg, the director.

The Night of the Tribades depicts a rehearsal for the original production of The Stronger at the Dagmar Theater in Copenhagen, which starred Strindberg’s wife, Siri von Essen-Strindberg, as their marriage was crumbling. It’s a historical drama and was informed by Strindberg’s autobiographical novel.

The play imagines Siri’s female lover, Marie David, as playing the mute role of the other woman in order to dramatize her tension with Strindberg and reveal his blatant sexism.

Throughout the play, the character of Strindberg refers to women as baboons, apes, parasites and criminals that are driven by impulse or instinct. He denounces women’s emancipation and admits to loving his wife, but doesn’t consider this a merit; rather, he likens it to cancer or the bubonic plague.

In one scene Strindberg unravels into a tirade about the size of his penis, exposing his feelings of weakness and insecurity. “Maybe you too will be dispensable!” he exclaims to Viggo Schiwe, played by Michael Thompson, the other man on stage.

When Wattenberg first chose the play he wasn’t sure if it would appeal to modern audiences. But with the recent controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s comments about hands, he realized it would play very well.

“It seems to me it’s an important issue,” Wattenberg said. “Especially after hearing the kind of discussions that took place a month ago about the size of hands and what that means and how it registers with our masculine sensibilities.”

The actors were very responsive to these issues. Michael Thompson plays the role of August Strindberg.

“I think it’s super important that people learn to at least tolerate and respect each other. Especially with politics,” Thompson said. “I’m happy that I have the opportunity to embody in some way what’s going on out there today.”

Madison Shanley plays Siri and is passionate about the play’s message. “There was such imbalance with the sexes back then, and to be a mainly female cast and to reflect that kind of message is really powerful,” Shanley said. “It’s cool to be able to represent yourself as well as women all over.”

Cody Hall is an actor in the show and the assistant director. She feels the issues of gender are still very relevant today and hopes it will make people realize how much still needs to be done in regard to gender equality.

“I hope that audiences open their eyes to [the fact that] this was an issue all the way back then and it’s still an issue now,” Hall said. “Let’s move the ball on this!”

The production runs until May 28.