The Black Glove, Op. 5

27 October 2012 in Theater

August Strindberg’s The Black Glove (at the Exit on Taylor through November 11) is like a two-year-old who, taken to the park for a playdate, proceeds to throw a tantrum, pick some wildflowers, lose a shoe, kiss the new girl, and get stung by a bee, all within an hour of arriving. In other words, it’s a difficult child. Verse, fantasy, and self-reflective monologues coexist in ways that amuse, surprise, tire, and sometimes test your patience. The production feels, at times, “lost and found, lost again, and found again,” (scene 4).

With an “innocent kidnapping” at its core, the work is a study of the lives of people who reside in an apartment building, as well as their reflections on the meaning of childhood. From cellar to attic—realized side-to-side across the stage—the super, the maid, the stricken mother, and the old man perform their individual moments with vigor, but no story compels more than another. There is an even tempo to the pacing of each scene, as well as parity between the characters’ individual concerns, and the shallow, horizontal use of the stage likewise reads flat. Although the characters live in the same building, and their lives intersect by circumstance, they seem disconnected. Their actions are isolated rather than reactive.

That I found it difficult to relate one character’s intentions to those of a character in another scene is not necessarily a fault on Strindberg: as my attention waxed and waned, I was reminded of being a child, where the fascination with an object or game fades as quickly as it is transferred to something new. My adult mind, however, resisted the effort it took to fully engage in each isolated scene. I wanted to relate every detail to some other detail in a perfectly worked out, cause-and-effect narrative, and The Black Glove simply doesn’t work that way.

Director Rob Melrose describes Strindberg’s fifth chamber play as the most “cheerful and redemptive,” and I would add that a thematic undercurrent of childhood helps create those qualities. The mother’s stolen baby is a constant reminder of the promise and hope of being young (each character comments on this), while the set design reminds one of a playroom littered with objects. There’s a table spread with the holiday feast, a candelabra, and a Christmas tree; a toy pony, a doll, and a doll’s chair; a desk and its requisite books and piles of papers. In addition, the two immortal spirits act, themselves, like children, playing with the apartment dwellers as if for their own amusement. The Black Glove, while fragmented and strangely (loosely) held together, is a thoughtful—if patience testing—reflection on the magic of childhood.