Benedictsson was born in 1850 on a Swedish farm, married a much older widower when she was 21, and later had a tumultuous affair with the Danish writer Georg Brandes. Under a male pseudonym she wrote two feminist themed novels and this play, and was acclaimed in Scandinavian literary circles. Beset by depression, she committed suicide by slitting her throat while looking in a hand mirror in 1888, at the age of 38, before completing this play.
In 1889, her stepdaughter (who found the manuscript) and her editor put together a final version of it. This present incarnation was inspired by Clare Bayley’s greatly abridged translation that had a successful production at Britain’s Royal National Theatre in 2007.
“The Enchanter” is Alland, a magnetic and noted sculptor in Paris, in 1888, who has been through many women. He has become the object of desire for Louise. She is a 32-year-old, free-spirited, unmarried Swedish woman. Living off her deceased, pastor father’s inheritance and has come to Paris for spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment. She has scorned a suitable bank clerk suitor in her native land, opting instead for adventure.
Her half-brother is a writer, her actual brother is a painter, her fiery sister is also around and she had a stormy affair with Alland. After disappointments, Louise returns to Sweden, and then goes back to Paris, with tragic consequences.
Louise is one of those idealistically romantic characters whose fate is compelling that is a staple of literature. Lexen’s stiff translation and choppy adaptation is not very satisfying. The dialogue has an overly formal tone and a stilted rhythm.
Fiona Mongillo’s very fine central performance as Louise aids the production. With her tresses of curly hair, quirky attractiveness and direct vocal delivery, Mongillo looks and sounds like a person of that era, perfectly conveying all of the of the character’s emotionalism.
With earthiness, a brooding quality and an appealing contemporary mien, Matthew DeCapua is lively as the heartbreaker Alland.
Michael J. Connolly, Claire Curtis-Ward, Paul Herbig, Ariana Karp, Jane May, and Nicholas Koy Santillo comprise the rest of the talented ensemble. Several of them portray two or three roles, some of cross gender. They all have vivid moments but as skilled as they are, they don’t make much of an impact due to the play’s compressed structure.
Director Lucy Jane Atkinson’s staging in the contained and cluttered space is proficient but lacking in ingenuity. The actors at times appear trapped by the furniture. Audience members on the left area of the three-sided playing area, look at the back of actors’ heads for a quite a while.
Ms. Atkinson’s work with the cast is mixed as well. The performances are chiefly dutiful rather then riveting. There’s pleasantness, straightforwardness and likability but never quite the dynamism or the high level of passion needed to fully render the characters.
The absence of depth and tension gives it the sense of a pseudo-Chekov work nicely performed at an acting conservatory’s auditorium.
The shorter second act has a momentum lacking in the expositional first act, that somewhat redeems the production.
A variety of vintage lamps hanging from areas of the ceiling are a cool touch of Mary Hamrick’s scenic design, as is a glass oil lamp that gets carried around. Less pleasing is the rickety, white painted wooden border around a large picture window, with a thin brass curtain rod. The abundance of well-chosen, period-looking furniture causes crowding.
The women’s costumes are a creative assortment that evokes the era, but costume designer Adrienne Carlile’s selections for the men look like average thrift shop acquisitions.
Lighting designer Morgan Zipf-Meister’s efforts are adept without adding much.
This North American premiere of The Enchantment is presented by the Ducdame Ensemble. It was founded by 2014 graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art’s Master’s Degree in Classical Acting for the Professional Theatre program. This theatre company is “committed to impassioned, relevant, and spirited storytelling where the play is always the thing.”
With The Enchantment, they have found an ideal vehicle for their noble goal, lamentably its execution is deficient. The production does have merit as a curio, the unearthing an interesting, forgotten work by a neglected author.
The Enchantment (through July 22, 2017)
Ducdame Ensemble in association Brukelen Stage+Film
HERE, 145 6th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.ducdameensemble.org
Running time: two hours with one intermission