Theater Review: "John Gabriel Borkman" at Aurora Theatre

Be warned: The symmetry of the Bernie Madoff scandal, a selling point in Aurora's John Gabriel Borkman marketing push, is rather a red herring. Yes, the titular figure in Henrik Ibsen's 1896 play is a bank manager whose speculations with investors' money have propelled him to financial disaster and prison (followed by further solitary confinement in his own attic). But the real intention here, clarified in a recent translation by David Eldridge, is to examine a repressed and variously self-deluded Oslo family as it freezes to emotional death. Director Barbara Oliver's prim production is accordingly frosty — handsomely appointed, confidently carried, but ultimately more effective than affecting. While the embezzler (a commanding, credibly Nordic James Carpenter) broods on the misfortune of missed fortune, much fuss is made over the tarnishing of his family name. Borkman's wife (Karen Grassle) and her sister (Karen Lewis), former rivals for his love, carry on an emotional tug of war for the loyalty of his son (Aaron Wilton), who understandably just wants to get out from under it all. Be further warned: A happy ending is highly unlikely.

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