It was back in 2003 that direct or Sarah Cameron Sunde first encountered the work of Jon Fosse, a Norwegian poet-turned-playwright who has been hailed as the “Beckett of the 21st century.”
“I was over in Norway with my dad visiting relatives, including my uncle who’s always taking me to opera and theatre,” Sunde explains. “He urged me to read a play called Winter. We went to see it at the national theatre, and I was blown away.” Sunde had an epiphany: “I said, ‘I know what I’m supposed to do—I’m supposed to bring this work to the U.S.’”
And so she has. Since 2004, Sunde has served as Fosse’s primary American director and translator, supervising productions of his Night Sings Its Songs (2004), deathvariations (2006) and Sa Ka La (2008). Her fourth Fosse effort, A Summer Day, produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is running through Nov. 25 at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre.
Fosse’s plays, spare and poetic and often exploring the inevitability of death, present an array of directorial challenges. A Summer Day centers on a woman (played by Karen Allen) who, prompted by a visit from an old friend, grapples with the disappearance of her husband years earlier. Performed on a mostly bare stage, it’s more physical and imagistic than much Off-Broadway fare. It’s also heavy material thematically. Sunde acknowledges that “the challenge in the rehearsal room is to keep it up, because it’s easy to go down with it.” She says she works hard to draw out the hopefulness at the core of the play. “There’s a spiritual element,” she notes, “about accepting our fate, about letting go. It’s about letting the hard moments of your life crash into you. It’s only by allowing them to crash that you can find release.”
Letting go is something she’s learned in the rehearsal room, Sunde says, in deference to Fosse’s uncompromising voice. “I feel like I have a little more freedom with the work now,” she reasons. “I just try to engage with it, and be present for what this piece is and who these people are that I’m working with.”
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