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THEATER REVIEW

She is Woman, hear her explore

'Winter' is a chilly but invigorating sex mystery from Norway's Jon Fosse.

August 12, 2008|Charles McNulty | Times Theater Critic

A man and woman meet in a city park. Beautiful but disheveled and clearly not in her right mind, she cries out for him to take possession of her. Partly out of concern for her safety, partly out of a sense of fateful intrigue, he brings her back to his hotel room, where he's staying on a business trip. And with an inescapable emotional illogic that seems at once ordinary and extreme, the two pass through lust, jealousy, loss and that curious romantic cocktail of confusion and hope.

Divided into four concentrated and highly enigmatic scenes, Jon Fosse's "Winter," which is being given its U.S. premiere at the Culver Studios' Stage 7, begins on a park bench like Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" and develops into a sex mystery not unlike one of Harold Pinter's middle-period classics. Another way of putting it: Fosse prefers heated ambiguity to explanation, and his characters' silences are weightier than their words.

This production of "Winter," translated by Ann Henning Jocelyn and Lene Pedersen (former Miss Norway and one of the show's stars), presents an opportunity to encounter the work of Norway's most innovative dramatist since Ibsen, a writer he shares little on the surface with beyond national identity.

Dubbed (a bit hyperbolically) "the Beckett for the 21st century" by the French newspaper Le Monde, Fosse is not just a stylistic heir to theatrical modernists but also a dramatic pattern-maker all his own. Mainstream audiences may find him frustratingly elliptical, but there's a structural elegance here that should appeal to those with a tolerance for lyrical brooding.

Presented in a rambling loft space on a studio lot with a rich movie history, the play proceeds as a series of haunting tableaux. Woman (Pedersen), strung out and shameless, and Man (Terje Skonseng Naudeer), buttoned up and bourgeois, shadow each other like animals uncertain which is the real predator.

Man, it turns out, is married. Woman, not as helpless as she first seems, survives by seduction. But it's never clear who is more desperate for this affair, as pursued and pursuer keep swapping places.

Directed by John Swanbeck and Janne Halleskov Kindberg, "Winter" receives a stunning multimedia liftoff that lends even a screen backdrop of falling snow an abstract beauty.

In addition to composing the sleek modern score, Gabrial McNair is responsible for the hypnotic visuals and sound design. Ray Woodbury is credited with the show design, Justin Corrigan with the stage design, and Andy Figueroa Sr. with the lighting design, and the result is an unusually integrated three-dimensional package that borders on a poetic hallucination.

Of the two Norwegian performers -- both with lightly accented English -- Pedersen leaves the more distinctive impression. Flailing about on the hotel room floor in her undergarments like a pole dancer who's taken a humiliating tumble, her Woman lets us feel the ferocious need firing her histrionic flirt-or-flight response.

Naudeer is meant to be repressed, though his portrayal at times seems indecisive. Early on, he has difficulty in convincing us that Man wouldn't just walk away from such a crazy public confrontation (always a challenge with this kind of cooked-up scenario). But his acting grows more assured when Man defines what it is he's after. The more he desires, the more compelling he becomes.

The ending is marred somewhat by Fosse's counterproductive underlining of what was better left suggested about Woman's background. Why succumb to reductive realism when we've already traveled this far without it?

Still, "Winter" offers a starkly invigorating appraisal of the way two people can, out of nowhere, madly crash into each other's lives. The recklessness of it all chills, but Fosse doesn't forget the fueling warmth.

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charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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'Winter'

Where: The Culver Studios' Stage 7, 9336 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Ends: Saturday

Price: $25

Contact: (323) 960-7792 or www.wintertheplay.com

Running time: 1 hour

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