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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013

Ibsen’s Odyssey in America

UW-Milwaukee stages ‘Gint’

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Romulus Linney’s retelling of Henrik Ibsen’s classic Peer Gynt neatly drops the epic story of Self into the context of early-20th-century Appalachia. In UW-Milwaukee’s production of Gint, we are asked to consider no less than what it means to be a fully developed individual.

The show’s production values and performance style are simple but effective. In act one, Pete Gint faces a tribe of ferocious, hedonistic hogs; the actors wear nylon masks that significantly disfigure their faces, and this, coupled with a horrifying sound environment of squealing and growling, bring deep horror to the surreal encounter. Zachary Dean is terrifying as the Hog King, tempting Gint into a life of selfish pleasure and giving him a motto by which he will unwittingly live: “Myself and nothing but myself.”

The ensemble does an exemplary job creating multitudinous complex characters. Of particular note are the two actors playing Gint: Glenn Widdicombe in act one, and Michael Jeske in act two. Widdicombe brings to life the young Gint, full of arrogance and formless ambition, and Jeske takes the reins as Gint in later life, losing his powers and pleasures one by one and facing his inevitable journey home to judgment for his wasted life. One of the most striking scenes occurs at the end of act one when young Gint eases his Oldie Mama’s (Brittany Curran) death by taking her in his arms and telling her a story about a sled ride to meet Jesus, while old Gint stands silently to the side, marking the moment as the end of childhood. 

After countless adventures in selfishness, Gint and the audience are faced with the question of what his life has added up to. When he tells a medicine man (Cheong-Hyeon Park), “I am myself,” the man replies, “And what is that? Nothing.” Gint is forced to justify his own existence and, realizing that he has indeed lived by the hog’s motto, he returns at last to the good woman who loved him as a boy. Sally (Anna Bisch) welcomes him with open arms, telling him that he has amounted to something insofar as he has been in her heart the whole time. But can the love of others truly save him? The medicine man leaves Gint and the audience with the unsettling conclusion, “We shall see.”