ENGLISH LANGUAGE PREMIERE OF "GUILTY" BY NOTED CONTEMPORARY ICELANDIC PLAYWRIGHT HRAFNHIDUR HAGALÍN, TRANSLATED BY SALKA GYUDMUNDSDOTTIR.
DIRECTED BY ROBERT GREER
September 5 to 17, 2017 -- Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue.
Presented by Theater for the New City (Crystal Field, Artistic Director) as part of Dream Up Festival 2017.
Wrenching drama drawn from transcripts of actual Icelandic criminal case from 1837.

Iceland in the 19th Century was not exactly an idyll; it was an island nation of farming and fishing communities, pretty much cut off from the much of the rest of the world. Crime was rare and capital crimes rarer still. So the country's criminal cases have become the stuff of legend, including the child rape case in Rifsaedasel of 1837, which is as infamous to Icelanders as The Manson Family is to Americans.

Contemporary Icelandic playwright Hrafnhildur Hagalín revisits this infamous case with "Guilty" (2014), a verse play that gracefully and provocatively examines issues of obsession and mercy which cling to it to this day.

Robert Greer, Artistic Director of New York's August Strindberg Rep, discovered the piece, translated by Salka Gudmundsdottir, at a staged reading in Denmark in 2015 and resolved to bring the play to American audiences.

In the play, the hired hand on a subsistence farm on the rugged north coast of Iceland stands accused of adultery with the farmer's wife. She has continued the relationship even after he has raped her young daughter. Her husband and daughter both testify against them. The penalty for adultery in 1837 is death. The play is the remembrance of all five characters, from different points in time.

For the judge, it is a memory play and he reflects with astonishment and regret on the consequences of his ruling. This was his first case. The theme of the play is that obsession runs deep, but mercy runs deeper.

The Icelandic title of the play is "Sek," a short term for guilty. The play is written in unrhymed verse (reminiscent of works by American poets of the 1960s) based on trial transcripts from 1837 which were, interestingly, written in longhand. In the script, line breaks guide the actors in phrasing the text. Akureyri Theatre Company, the northernmost theater company in Iceland, presented the play in 2014, for which it was awarded Iceland’s Griman prize. The play is lean and minimalist in its concept: its setting is a sparse courtroom on the north coast of Iceland in 1837. The defendant and three witnesses stand in the four corners of the room facing the judge. The soundscape is only the wilderness sounds surrounding their stories.

Playwright Hrafnhildur Hagalín was born in Reykjavík in 1965. She graduated from the Reykjavík College of Music as a classical guitarist and later studied Literature and Theatre at the University of Sorbonne, Paris I V. Her first play, "I Am the Maestro," was produced at the Reykjavík City Theatre and won her the Icelandic Critics' Award in 1991 and the Nordic Theatre Prize in 1992. It has since been translated to twelve languages and produced in many countries around the world, including Australia, France and the USA. It was nominated as Best Foreign Play in Italy in 2004. "Easy Now, Electra," Hrafnhildur’s second play, premiered at the Icelandic National Theatre in 2000 and was nominated in Gríman, the Icelandic Theatre Prize, as the Best Icelandic Play in 2001. Her other plays included "North" (2004), "Salka Valka" (an adaptation of the novel by Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness, 2005), a television play and the radio play "Loners" which a cycle of short plays for older actors produced and broadcast by Icelandic State Broadcasting System in September 2009. Hrafnhildur's plays have been published by Mál og menning in Reykjavík, "Iperborea" ("Io sono il Maestro," "I am the Maestro," 2003) and Oxford University Press ("Easy Now, Electra," in Anthology of Modern Women Playwrights of Europe, 2002 ). Since 2009, she and Steinunn Knútsdóttir have lead Room 408, an online theatre venue based in Reykjavik and focused on digital performance and specializing in exploring the web as a place for performance and performance making. Hrafnhildur lives in Reykjavík and is dramaturg at the Reykjavík City Theatre.

WITH
Brian Hamilton and Sean Hoagland as the farmer and the hired hand
Ivette Dumeng as the wife
Bailey Newman as their daughter
Mary Tierney as the narrator/judge


Lighting design by T. Michael Culhane
Costume design by Jessa-Raye Court

Stage Manager Charles Cascano



"This fine production of 'Guilty,' a United States premiere, was presented as part of TNC’s 8th annual Dream Up Festival. I am sorry that it had such a limited run (for now?) and hope that it may be revived. If one wants to see foreign works in simple unpretentious but competent productions, such NYC venues as TNC or H.E.R.E or other off-off and further off places must be sought out and supported, as well as the artists and companies, together with directors (who read) and translators who ferret out unknown work; they all deserve our thanks and active support. That is the duty of a city and its citizens who pride themselves of being “the cultural center of the World” (no less!)." -- Beate Hein Bennett, New York Theatre Wire