Northern Nights

Here at Culturebot we see lots of shows. Sometimes we go out of devotion to an artist, sometimes we go because we’ve heard good things through the grapevine, and sometimes we go just because we’re curious – which is why I attended Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s Night Sings Its Songs at The Culture Project last Monday. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see the US premiere of a writer who has been called “Norway’s biggest cultural export since Ibsen?” Apparently Fosse has been produced on the major stages of every country in Europe and is huge in Japan. It sounded like this could be history-making stuff and I was itching to find out more.

I headed over to 45 Bleecker and walked into the lobby of the theater to find myself surrounded by a group of very classy Norwegians speaking Norwegian and looking very serious. Okay, I guess that’s to be expected, but still…
I had arrived at the theater a little early, around 7:30, and took my seat. As 8:00 p.m. came and went, I grew increasinlg more uneasy. I’ve been in (and worked on and seen) enough shows to know that opening night of any show is going to be a challenge anywhere – especially in a new venue and a new country. So that’s not what made me nervous. What made me nervous was that I was sitting there in the midst of an audience erect with perfect posture and intense expressions in near total silence!

As I sat there in the stern quiet I grew uncomfortable. I thought of Hedda and Nora and all of Ibsen’s heroines and I understood their feelings of being trapped in a rigid, emotionally repressed society in a land where it can be dark 20 hours a day during winter.

But then at ten after eight the show began and my feeling of panic subsided. Night Sings Its Songs is a spare, elegant, haunting work and Fosse’s authorial voice is unique while clearly referencing Ibsen and Pinter. Fosse turns his gaze upon the fraught landscape of intimacy and uses language and silence to reveal the places where communication fails. While I don’t speak Norwegian (obviously) the careful and devoted translation by director Sarah Cameron Sunde conveys a lyrical elegance that I assume is in the original. (I say “careful and devoted” because in the script that I later read she had even gone so far as to note the different meanings of the affirmative “Yah.”).

And while Fosse’s spare dialogue reveals its cultural influences, the show is thematically universal, which is probably why it has traveled so well around the world. Night Sings Its Songs centers around a young married couple that are very much in love, but overwhelmed by their own individual setbacks and unfulfilled dreams. Their inability to overcome or accept their personal limitations impedes them from communicating with one another. Their frustration with themselves and each other creates the classic cycle of hope gone sour, desperation turned inward. They isolate themselves from each other, they retreat, they become unable to love.

Who would have thought that an evening of Norwegian theater was going to be dark and brooding? Don’t get me wrong – this is good stuff, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

I say that because the work stuck with me even after I left the theater. It was a warm night, but still I felt the chill of the North. Once I was back in the comforts of my apartment I sat down and studied the script further, which allowed me to get a better sense of the lyrical simplicity of Fosse’s writing. His dialogue and stage directions are sparse and specific – but the words flow together to create a desolate melody with silent spaces full of what has been left unsaid between two very isolated people. Fosse employs a narrow range of mundane vocabulary in a lyrical way conveying a haunting realism.
I look forward to observing New York’s reaction to this modern author and taste of Norway.

For more information on Night Sings Its Songs visit The show will be running from Monday, June 7 through June 26th Thursdays through Mondays at 8:00 p.m with an additional performance on Sunday, June 6th at 3:00p.m. at Culture Project @ 45 Bleecker. Tickets are $15.00. To order call 212.352.0255 or visit

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