Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg

One of the best college courses I took introduced me to the plays of Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg. They are the founders of modern drama from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Henrik Ibsen believed in the power of the truth. His plays were realistic and ahead of their time. My favorite of his plays is Hedda Gabler. A Doll’s House and An Enemy of the People are probably his best known. An Enemy of the People was apparently written as a reaction to the his previous play Ghosts. To me, it’s too simple a defense of the truth. It was followed by The Wild Duck, the most ambiguous of the Ibsen plays I know which shows there can be consequences for telling the truth. There’s a fine German film of it. I saw it about 40 years ago and don’t think it’s available in the US now.

There are only four major plays by Anton Chekhov. My favorite is Uncle Vanya but the critical consensus probably favors The Three Sisters or The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov loves his characters for their faults as well as their virtues.

August Strindberg is the most versatile of the three. He is best known for Miss Julie.

There are comprehensive biographies of Ibsen and Strindberg by Michael Meyer who also translated their plays. I’ve read the Ibsen one which is outstanding.

I saw performances of Uncle Vanya and Ghosts.

Uncle Vanya was performed in New York in 1973 and directed by Mike Nichols. Here’s the New York Times review. Nicol Wiliamson was outstanding as Vanya and the cast included George C. Scott, Julie Christie and Lillian Gish.

This is the Playbill cover.

An article about the actors.

I saw Ghosts at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1982. Here’s an article about Liv Ullman who starred in it. It looks like the same production also was in New York.

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