Through glass

Mulligan's 'Dark' victory

"Through a Glass Darkly" By Ingmar Bergman • With Carey Mulligan • Atlantic Theater Company • New York Theatre Workshop, East Fourth St., NYC • Through July 2, 2011.

The primary problem with adapting any film by Ingmar Bergman for the stage lies in the fact that the late Swedish master, more than almost any other director, concentrated, almost obsessively, on the facial subtleties of the actors with whom he was working. Even at its best and closest, the stage imposes distance on its audiences, whose view of the actors' faces is necessarily compromised.

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Many of Bergman's films actually seem to take place within his actors' faces. This is particularly true of "Though a Glass Darkly," Bergman's 1960 triumph which uses just four performers, and, for the most part, a single island location.

Despite the degree of difficulty involved, Jenny Worton, Artistic Associate of London's Almeida Theatre, has turned Bergman's screenplay into an 85-minute, dramatic work. After having been produced in England, the play has arrived here as a production of the Atlantic Theater Company.

Among the primary reasons for the production's existence is the emergence on the theatrical scene of Carey Mulligan, a young British-born, Irish-derived actress who made her Broadway debut as Nina in the 2008 revival of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull," for which she received a Drama Desk Award nomination and numerous comparisons to the late Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn's name came up again when Mulligan's first major film, "An Education," was released. The actress became, beyond doubt, someone to watch.

"Though a Glass Darkly," which is set in l960, offers her the difficult, complicated role of Karin, a schizophrenic, who has just been released from a mental hospital. The character joins her guilt-stricken father, David, a novelist who has just emerged from an unsuccessful second marriage, Martin, her surgeon husband, and Max, her 17-year-old brother, to spend the summer on a secluded island off the Swedish coast.

"Through a Glass Darkly" is the first film in what the director called his "faith trilogy," the second and third segments being "Winter Light" and "The Silence," made in l961 and 1962, respectively. In the film, Karin's father and husband, played here for director David Leveaux by Chris Sarandon and Jason Butler Harner, were played by Bergman regulars Gunnar Bjornstrand and Max von Sydow. Karin's younger brother, Max, named Minus in the film and played by Lars Passgard, is played at NYTW by Ben Rosenfield, making his Off-Broadway debut. Under the eagle-eyed direction of Leveaux, who is also represented this season by a strong new Broadway production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," Mulligan gives more of herself than is usually the case with an actress of relatively limited stage experience. Ingmar Bergman has described "Through a Glass Darkly" as "a desperate attempt to present a simple philosophy: God is love and love is God. A person surrounded by love is also surrounded by God." Bergman originally intended to call his film "The Wallpaper," since he felt that Karin, as she was retreating into illness, had a way of slipping away from her family and disappearing into the walls of their rooms, where she could see and hear things the others couldn't. Mulligan's Karin is surrounded by her family's love, but it exacts a heavy price on her sanity.