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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton Players challenge audience in Independent People

<ugh Iceland has been in the news recently due to its economic crisis and the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, this North Atlantic European island generally does not receive much attention in the States. However, this changed last weekend for Carleton students with the performance of Eva Barr and John Musial’s adaptation of Halldór Laxness’s epic novel, Independent People.

The production of this play began only a few years ago when Musial read the novel while traveling in Iceland. The story follows Bjartur of Summerhouses (Jared Evans ’10) and his struggling, crofter family during “a revolution that promises much but does little,” says Alex Higgin-Houser ’10, of the early 20th century. Bjartur’s son, Nonni (Ben Stroup ’13), narrates the story, which plays around with the ideas of surviving independently by farming sheep, which is a slowly dying tradition, dealing with the rise of socialism, and being forced to live by others’ rules. The play captures the essence of living in the isolated croft with its real dirt stage and its use of an extended backdrop that projected scenes of the Icelandic countryside. What makes this play truly wonderful are the various characters, from Bjartur, who is steadfastly independent, to his daughter, Asta Sollilja (Chasya Hill ’10), the flower of his life, who is just as stubborn and yet Bjartur’s “soulmate,” as Barr puts it. Also, the curse of Gunnvor, an ancient superstition that haunts the Summerhouses land, furthers Bjartur’s fight “for his right to live without the aid of others,” as Sarah Price ’13 explains.

The Carleton Players took on the challenge of not only performing a play about a country with which most people do not have any association, but also a play that is still in its developmental stages. The Looking Glass Theatre Company graciously worked with The Carleton Players to produce this difficult play. Independent People has proven challenging because of the symbolism and actor and audience interpretations. Some concepts in the play include the use of sheep bones to represent death and the grandmother constantly spinning wool to represent the passage of time. The actors’ biggest challenge was taking on roles that have never been performed before. They did extensive background work in order to develop each character. This could not have been done without the hard work of the directors, actors and Price, serving as the dramaturg. Also, much of the true meaning of the play really depends on the audience’s interpretation of the various symbols and the way that the actors presented their roles.

A unique feature of this play was the use of shadow puppets displaying in the background. They added a dimension to the play that could not have been done without the help of Daniel Polnau, Kristi Ternes and Pete Callahan. The shadow puppets enhanced the story by creating visual representations of stories and dreams that occur throughout the play, emphasizing the effect of the myths, a dominant feature of the Icelandic culture.

Higgin-Houser, who played various roles representing men of power, describes Independent People as a “living work,” because there is so much freedom in both the development of the play as a whole and the characters. Since this play is in its early stages, there is always room for improvement, which is why audience feedback also plays a major role in the development of Independent People. The growth of the characters in this play is very similar to the growth of the play as a whole: Bjartur, Asta, grandmother Hallbera (Kristen Johnson ’10), and Asta’s daughter, Bjort, leave the croft for an uncertain future, just as the play will now move on to further changes, uncertain if for better or for worse.

Special thanks go to Eva Barr, John Musial, Daniel Polnau, the tech crew, the cast, and everyone else involved for their hard work.

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