Henrik Ibsen's "Rosmersholm" is a darkly brooding tragedy
with political overtones. John Rosmer has been living at his estate
with Rebecca West. The two friends are just that, friends. They share
each other's innermost thoughts. Rosmer is just getting over his
wife's suicide a year and a half previously. At Rosmersholm, though,
the dead come back to life as a white horse. The family lore is
intertwined with all of the characters and circumstances throughout
the play, as it guides the action and propels Rebecca and Rosmer
toward their fateful end.
The play is set during a time of political conflict in Norway during the latter half of the 19th century. Richard L. Hay's set is a simple but elegant sitting room with a table, straight back chairs, hard wood paneling, and flower arrangements everywhere. Rosmer's wife Beata hated flowers. She hated the smell and the colors. Rebecca has filled the house with them, and Rosmer has come alive. Rector Kroll is encouraging Rebecca and Rosmer to marry. He also has political motives for visiting. He and some friends are countering the free thinkers and liberals with a newspaper that they have just bought. They are trying to enlist Rosmer as the editor. Kroll's son and daughter have rebelled against his strictness and joined the liberals. Even his wife supports them. He must save the misguided public. He's shocked and appalled when Rosmer tells him how he, also, has become a liberal and wants to help people free their minds and strengthen their wills. He and Rebecca want to spread joy, because it's joy that makes men noble. Kroll suddenly sees it as his duty to first and foremost destroy the traitor Rosmer.
The editor of the "Beacon," the left wing paper comes to see Rosmer, who gives his permission, indeed urges Mortensgard to use his name as a supporter. Mortensgard is elated because he says that the movement needs good Christian men to take up the cause. When he finds out that Rosmer has given up his Pastorate and left the Church, he wants to conceal it, because his name will then lack credibility. Both the liberals and conservatives want to use him for their own ends. They both accuse him of having an affair with Rebecca and he starts to come apart at the seams.
Eileen DeSandre's maid, Mrs. Helseth provides a few bits of levity, but she also serves as a sort of narrator. It is she who carried the note from Beata to Mortensgard accusing Rosmer and Rebecca of an affair, just before Beata jumped from the bridge into the falls. She's not a gossip, but what she doesn't know, she surmises, and it's not hard to pry it out of her. She's the one who tells us that the babies of Rosmersholm never cry, but the adults never laugh, which Rebecca, after brief reflection concurs too. She's the one who keeps alluding to the white horse that symbolizes the dead of Rosmersholm, with whom the living are completely intertwined.
Ultimately, Kroll digs out the deepest and darkest secrets, confronts everybody with them, and makes certain that nobody will be able to live a guilt free life, dedicated to raising the human condition. Seen against our own politics of personal destruction, these characters are stripped of everything but their love for each other in the chilling climax of this riveting tragedy of Henrik Ibsen's "Rosmersholm" directed by Jerry Turner in The Black Swan Theater at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland.