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'Borkman' a bore

JGB

JGB

Yet another snowstorm is sweeping the city. But thankfully, this one is confined entirely to BAM’s Harvey Theater.

Three great English actors — Alan Rickman, Lindsay Duncan and Fiona Shaw — have joined forces to star in a new production of Henrik Ibsen’s rarely revived winter-themed tragedy “John Gabriel Borkman” staged by Ireland’s Abbey Theater.

Even devoted theatergoers can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Ibsen’s penultimate play. It hardly belongs in the same league as “Hedda Gabler” and “A Doll’s House,” but it does have some unusual contemporary resonance.

John Gabriel Borkman, played by Rickman, is a Bernie Madoff-like corrupt financier who was caught illegally speculating with money stolen from his bank. Home from prison, he now lives in self-imposed isolation in the attic after disgracing his family’s good name.

Most of the play concerns the power struggle between Borkman’s hysterical wife (Shaw) and her calculating sister (Duncan) for the affection of Borkman’s son, who is viewed as the family’s last chance at redemption. 

James Macdonald’s production is marred by dim lighting and a spare, dark design that is inappropriate for this period-style play. But the final scene, when a snowstorm engulfs the stage, is quite stunning.

Although the cast is certainly not lacking in talent, the performances are noticeably strained and superficial. While Rickman certainly knows how to bring a chilling presence to a downbeat character, he seems to be sleepwalking through the role.

All this makes “John Gabriel Borkman” feel like a slowly plotted, melodramatic soap opera instead of a long-forgotten curiosity from one of the 19th century’s greatest playwrights.


If you go

“John Gabriel Borkman” plays through Feb. 6 at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org

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