Even if you’re no fan of European art house cinema, the piercing, vulnerable gaze of Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 film “Scenes from a Marriage” is genuinely haunting and unforgettable.
Ivo van Hove’s experimental, environmental stage adaptation of the film, which just opened Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village, will also not soon be forgotten, but mainly for being unnecessarily elaborate, puzzling and long (3½ hours to be exact).
Hove, a world-famous Belgian director whose work has frequently been seen at NYTW and BAM, specializes in avant-garde revivals of well-known titles like “Hedda Gabler” and “The Little Foxes.” His antics bring a self-conscious, self-congratulatory spirit that uncomfortably invades each work.
“Scenes from a Marriage,” which psychologically probes the disintegration of a formerly stable, middle-class marriage over a number of years, could easily be adapted in a straightforward manner.
Here, however, the ultra-theatrical Hove has torn apart the space of NYTW so that audience members are divided and take turns watching half-hour scenes, with different actors portraying the same characters in each space. Once a scene ends, the audience moves over to the next room. Still with me?
After intermission, the theater is rearranged into a sprawling arena and all the actors — playing the same roles — appear on top of each other, often reciting the same lines at the same time, in a disorienting, cacophonous mishmash. The intimacy that fueled the earlier scenes is lost.
You’ve got to give Hove credit for pulling off his playful, environmental concept just physically. But what’s the point of all this? Is he emphasizing the universality of the characters’ journey? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe three actresses can play Mama Rose the next time they do “Gypsy.”
If you go:
‘Scenes from a Marriage’ plays at New York Theatre Workshop through Oct. 26, 79 E. Fourth St., nytw.org