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New stage version of 'Private Confessions' at Kennedy Center

Private Confessions, National Theater of Norway (photo by Erik Berg)

Ingmar Bergman wrote the screenplay of Enskilda samtal (Private Confessions), a 1996 film directed by Bergman's muse, Liv Ullmann. Last year Ullmann adapted the script in a Norwegian stage version, premiered by the National Theater of Norway. In a co-production with Riksteatret, this new play is visiting the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater this week, where it opened on Wednesday evening. These performances are part of the centenary celebration of the Swedish film director, who died in 2007.

Bergman drew the story from his mother's diary, discovered and read only after she had died. In it she confided deep secrets of her life, including her unhappy marriage with Bergman's father and her attraction to another man. Ullmann has woven that diary more explicitly into the stage version, through a Narrator character, played with reserve by Kari Simonsen. Otherwise the play follows the same non-linear arc as the film, beginning with the confession of the wife, Anna, to her childhood pastor, Jacob, and then looping back to the origins of her infidelity and the tragic outcome of her decision to tell her husband everything.

Other Articles:

Nelson Pressley, Bergman’s ‘Private Confessions’: Portrait of the artist’s mother’s affair (Washington Post, December 8)

Jason Fraley, Liv Ullmann gives ‘Private Confessions’ during Kennedy Center’s ‘Bergman 100’ (WTOP, December 6)
The account of the emotional torment is unsparing. Marte Engebrigtsen is radiant and multifaceted as Anna. Her frankness in revealing the secret affair to her husband, the more staid Henrik of Mattis Herman Nyquist, is brutal and difficult to watch. The audience initially responded to this central scene with nervous laughter, as if the story were a sitcom, but that gave way to horrified gasps. Bjørn Skagestad was forthright as Jacob, the role played by Max von Sydow in the film, the upright moral voice who advises Anna to tell Henrik everything.

Liv Bernhoft Osa was the strongest in the supporting cast, as Anna's mother, Karin, while Anneke von der Lippe was a steady, somewhat quizzical presence as Anna's friend Märta. The last in the cast to take the stage, the young theology student Tomas, who falls into the romance with Anna, was the only slight disappointment, not given much individuality by Morten Svartveit. The Norwegian dialogue is miked discreetly, with English subtitles projected onto the austere wooden wall at the back of the small, nearly empty stage space (set design by Milja Salovaara). A beautifully realized love scene, equal parts awkward and intense, is the reason for the recommendation of this production only for ages 16 and above.

This production runs through December 9, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.

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