Through a Glass Darkly

Watching astonishing young actress Carey Mulligan lose her mind in 90 minutes is ample reason to see the Atlantic Theater Company's disquieting production of "Through a Glass Darkly."

David - Chris Sarandon
Max - Ben Rosenfield
Karin - Carey Mulligan
Martin - Jason Butler Harner

Watching Carey Mulligan, the astonishing young actress who has been creating more buzz than a beehive (in the film “An Education” and in the Broadway production of “The Seagull”), lose her mind in 90 minutes is ample reason to see the Atlantic Theater Company’s disquieting production of “Through a Glass Darkly.” Jenny Worton’s stage adaptation can’t re-create the bone-chilling scenic desolation of Ingmar Bergman’s Academy Award-winning 1961 film. But under David Leveaux’s helming, the interior landscape of this claustrophobic chamber piece about a family that disintegrates over the course of a summer holiday is bleakly beautiful on its own terms.

There’s no denying that the loss of key elements of the Bergman film template — brooding seascapes, penetrating closeups, stark black-and-white definition — diminishes the range and impact of the story, which begins on an untrustworthy note of happiness. Nonetheless, the stage treatment distills the human emotions into a powerful brew.

“Everything will be perfect this holiday,” Karin (Mulligan) blithely exclaims, as she joins her husband Martin (Jason Butler Harner), her teenaged brother Max (Ben Rosenfield), and their father David (Chris Sarandon) as the family settles into a weather-beaten cottage on a remote island in the Baltic Sea.

Takeshi Kata has designed a stunning split-focus set (lighted in cool, isolating tones by David Weiner) that obliquely references both the family’s emotional disconnectedness and the advancing schizophrenia that will send Karin into madness. On stage left, the boxed-in interior of the claustrophobic cottage. On stage right, an expressionistic expanse of lonely beach. And against it all, a bleached blue “sky” of painted planks.

But the spot that draws the eye — and where Mulligan claims the acting high ground — is the attic where Karin retreats to commune with the god she hears calling to her from behind the faded wallpaper.

The most interesting aspect of this remarkable performance is its clarity. Mulligan doesn’t take Karin on a slow, graceful spiral into insanity. Rather, she splits herself into two distinct persona.

Although always volatile and often dangerous, Karin seems lucid enough as she tries to reassure her concerned but ineffectual husband (his anguish manifest in Harner’s simpatico perf), or incestuously toys with the ricocheting hormones of her brother (a break-out perf from young Rosenfield). But Mulligan switches gears in a heartbeat the minute she steps into the attic for one of her rapturous religious experiences, suggesting that it’s ultimately Karin’s own choice as to which mental landscape she eventually decides to inhabit.

It’s only when Karin confronts her father (a Scandinavian iceberg, in Sarandon’s glacial perf), a famous but second-rate novelist who callously admits to using his daughter’s ordeal to sharpen his literary acuity, that Mulligan allows us to glimpse her internal suffering and grasp her profound isolation.

Unlike the film, the stage version distilled by Worton (an associate artist with the Almeida Theater in London, where the play preemed) doesn’t delve deeply enough into the guilt felt by the father, a definitively dour Bergman-like character. Lacking the film’s often silent but unbearably intense closeups, the play doesn’t actually penetrate the depths of any character but Karin. But given the power and passion of Mulligan’s perf, who could complain about that?

Through a Glass Darkly

New York Theater Workshop;199 seats; $75 top

Production: An Atlantic Theater Company presentation, in association with Andrew Higgie, Garry McQuinn, Debbie Bisno and Bruce Davey, of a play in one act adapted by Jenny Worton from a film by Ingmar Bergman. Directed by David Leveaux.

Creative: Sets, Takeshi Kata; costumes, Jess Goldstein; lighting, David Weiner; original music and sound, David Van Tieghem; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Jenna Woods. Reviewed June 2, 2011. Opened June 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: David - Chris Sarandon
Max - Ben Rosenfield
Karin - Carey Mulligan
Martin - Jason Butler Harner

More Legit

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

  • Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac to Star in Anton Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' Adaptation

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac are taking on an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” for New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan. The company announced on Tuesday that they will feature two final performances to round out the 2019 to 2020 season, including the Chekhov play. “Three Sisters” will be directed by Tony award-winning Sam [...]

  • montreal just for laughs Comedy Festival

    Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival Is the 'Coachella of Comedy'

    Every summer, Montreal becomes the epicenter of the comedy world as the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival takes over the Canadian city. Now in its 37th year, the mindboggling scale of the festival is there in the numbers: more than 1,600 artists from across the globe (speaking English, French and other languages) performing 250 shows [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content