Generally speaking, biographies of even immortal artists rarely produce compelling dramas. Whatever mysterious alchemy transmutes raw experience into refined art is simply too interior and remote from the dramatic, social arena to ever satisfactorily be laid bare on the stage. Swedish playwright Per Olov Enquists delightfully sardonic, 1975 take on the marital woes of Scandinavian literary giant August Strindberg (in Ross Shidelers spry, 1976 translation) may be the notable exception. Drawn from a period when Strindberg (John Prosky) was an adherent of what might be charitably termed Darwinian male chauvinism, the play opens on the read-through rehearsal of Strindbergs short, 1889 one-act, The Stronger, the writers self-flattering portrayal of the affair between his wife, the actress Siri von Essen (Sarah Underwood), and her lover, Marie Caroline David (Linda Castro), which ultimately scuttled the Strindbergs already foundering marriage. In a stroke of sadistic pique, Strindberg has cast the real-life lovers to play their fictionalized counterparts. The results only recapitulate the hapless playwrights emasculating trauma, and play as if the author of The Dance of Death had written an episode of Fawlty Towers. Director Thomas P. Cookes mercurial production and a superb cast (including Craig Antons hilariously vapid ham actor, Shiwe) capture all of Enquists mordant wit, while a peerless production design team (Catherine Baumgardners museum-grade period costumes; Jeffery Eisenmanns antique, backstage set; Ronan Kilkellys expressionistic lights) lends the proceedings a literate gloss. Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 23-27); through December 11. (562) 985-5526 or calrep.org.
Fri., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 20, 2 & 8 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Starts: Nov. 19. Continues through Dec. 11, 2010