The New York Times
Dancing Erotically, With Knives
In 'Stockholm,' the Blades Are Drawn From the Start
By Ben Brantley
Published: August 23, 2013
HUDSON, N.Y. — The knives are always out. They hang, in a neat and gleaming row of nine, above the sink of the fashionable London home that is the setting for "Stockholm," Bryony Lavery's sharp and twisting liebestod of a play, which has been given a smashing American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson here.
Those knives may or not be used to puncture skin (I'm not telling, and I'm not sure) before the end of this hourlong study of one disturbingly codependent couple. But you'll always be conscious of them, hovering like so many mini-swords of Damocles. They are reminders that given the right — or wrong — inhabitants, even the coziest domestic sanctuary can be a dangerous place.
First staged by Frantic Assembly in Plymouth, England, six years ago, "Stockholm" is on one level a torn-from-the-headlines sort of story. I won't say which headlines, but if you're a devoted consumer of tabloid TV, what happens, or may happen, in "Stockholm" will start to sound more and more familiar as you watch it.
Yet as directed by Laura Margolis, the artistic director at Stageworks, and featuring precision-tooled performances by Jason Babinsky and Emily Gardner Hall, this play is more than an exercise in lurid sensationalism. Though it definitely provides some prurient kicks, "Stockholm" is also informed by the carefully measured dispassion and compassion that was evident in Ms. Lavery's best-known previous work, "Frozen," seen on Broadway in 2004.
Rendered with a pulsing eroticism that befits lovers who can't keep their hands off each other, "Stockholm" is more hot-blooded than "Frozen," which was remarkable for the calculated reserve with which it mapped the repercussions of a little girl's murder. But as in "Frozen," Ms. Lavery is doing her best to identify with people we don't usually afford much sympathy. That means she is inviting us to crawl with her under the skins of some not very likable characters.
Granted, such empathy is easier to achieve with the partners of "Stockholm" than with the pedophile of "Frozen," so memorably embodied in New York by Brian F. O'Byrne. You've probably met people like Todd (Mr. Babinsky) and Kali (Ms. Hall); you may even have behaved as they do, God help you. Attractive, trendy and smug, they're a Fun Couple, or would like you to think so anyway, the sort who encase themselves into in an enviable cocoon-for-two of superiority.
When we first meet them, they're planning a vacation to the European capital of the play's title. As Todd tells us, it's a place where the sun shines for entire days; of course, it also has its seasons of unending darkness. Todd shivers, almost imperceptibly, as he considers the idea of those long, long nights.
Evening is fast approaching in London on this particular day, Todd's birthday, as it happens. He and Kali have just seen Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal," as a prelude to a Scandinavian holiday, and they're speaking in a twee pseudo-Swedish, their own private language. On the menu tonight for this adorable pair: an epicurean meal, prepared by Todd, and plenty of sex, drinking and dancing.
Choreography, the deft work of Jennifer Weber, is essential to "Stockholm," since Todd and Kali are dancing fools and their range of movement swings wide. Sometimes they skip about as blithely as Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in "Singin' in the Rain," but their natural form would seem to be the apache dance, with its all-out brutality. In bed, needless to say, they're highly kinetic, gold medal gymnasts.
The narrative use of dance serves a twofold and paradoxical purpose, both making us feel the couple's shared sensual rhythms and keeping us at a remove, since a pas de deux admits two only. Yet it's possible to say that Todd and Kali maintain a similar double vision about themselves. After all, they switch between the first and third persons when describing their lives.
Sometimes they seem to be looking on, Todd in particular, from an amazed and unhappy distance. Self-awareness, though, doesn't change how they act. Their behavior is so beyond their resistance it might as well be coded in their genes.
"Stockholm" isn't perfect. As in all of her work, Ms. Lavery lays it on a bit thick, starting with giving her characters names that suggest death. She doesn't need such blatant signifiers, which come close to functioning as spoilers all by themselves. The double-edged nature of the relationship that shapes "Stockholm" mostly feels so organic that it seems a shame to burden it with signposts.
This is especially true when you have Mr. Babinsky and Ms. Hall giving such natural life to Todd and Kali's extreme, lacerating ambivalence. These young performers are remarkably smooth in conveying spikiness. And they make us believe that from the moment they met (in a restaurant encounter, evoked with the strategic use of cutlery), everything Todd and Kali have done has been charged with dangerous contradiction.
As a resident of Columbia County, with a home not far from Hudson, I'm ashamed to say that this is my first visit to Stageworks, which has been in existence since 1996. (It moved into its current space in 2004.) I had heard especially good things last year about its premiere production of Kieron Barry's "Tomorrow in the Battle," and if it was as well executed as "Stockholm" is, I'm truly sorry to have missed it.
For though Stageworks undoubtedly has a small budget, "Stockholm" would seem to have made the most resourceful use of every dollar. I haven't even mentioned the production design by Randall Parsons (set), Deena Pewtherer (lighting) and Ben Heyman (sound). All the elements collude here to keep you — as well as Todd and Kali — off balance in ways I wouldn't dream of giving away. One hint, though: keep your eyes on the staircase.
Stockholm: By Bryony Lavery; directed by Laura Margolis; choreography by Jennifer Weber; sets by Randall Parsons; lighting by Deena Pewtherer; costumes by George W. Veale VI; sound by Ben Heyman; technical director/general manager, Phil Elman; stage manager, Jennifer Dobies. Presented by Stageworks/Hudson, Ms. Margolis, executive artistic director; at Stageworks, 41 Cross Street, Hudson, N.Y.; (518) 822-9667; stageworkshudson.org. Through Sept. 1. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes.
The Troy Record/WAMC Northeast Public Radio
Bob Goepfert Reviews "Stockholm"
by Bob Goepfert 8/20/13
Stageworks in Hudson has a reputation for producing cutting-edge theater. Their current offering — the American premiere of "Stockholm," — elevates that reputation for creating provocative and disturbing theater.
This production of "Stockholm" is an amazing production of a play that is exciting, bold, beautiful and erotic. It's not a play or a production suited for everyone's taste, but if you like daring theatre that will make you think and feel it should not be missed.
"Stockholm" is about a young married couple, Todd and Kali who are about to leave on a holiday to Stockholm. They have everything – a beautiful apartment, successful careers, loyal friends and what appears to be a solid relationship.
However, their life is all about appearances. It soon becomes evident that the "Stockholm" title is not about a place, but refers to the Stockholm Syndrome, which bonds a victim to his abuser. It is probably best known in reference to the Patty Hearst kidnapping and is often used to explain the behavior of battered wives who stay in a brutal relationship.
In this case it is Todd who is Kali's victim. She is a woman who is as disturbed as she is beautiful. She has manipulated Todd so he is isolated from family and friends to the point she is the sole focus of his life and a willing victim for her attacks of verbal and physical violence - which always ends with intense sexual intercourse. Though there are moments of extreme sensuality and language there is no nudity or gratuitous behavior.
This is an alluringly beautiful presentation in which almost every movement is choreographed. The fight scenes are astoundingly physical and the love-making moments are breathtakingly sensitive. These extremes reflect the minds of the characters and hint (without justifying) at why they indulge in such dysfunctional behavior.
The performances are perfection as they feature two of the bravest performance actors can offer. Jason Babinsky plays Todd as a victim about whom we care without forgiving his willingness to stay in a toxic and doomed relationship. Babinsky is able to create a complicated man while expertly handling the extreme physical demands of the script.
Emily Gardner Hall is a compelling Kali. She is a dangerous, deceptive, mentally-disturbed woman who knows her sexual hold over Todd. Hall is lithe, graceful and extremely sexual as she creates a character that is hypnotic in her sensuality. As much as you are repelled by her emotional and physical cruelty and you find yourself understanding Todd's attraction to her.
The cognitive dissonance between beauty and repulsion is what makes the play so compelling. The production is almost visceral in it beauty and its insights on addictive behavior are scary.
Enriching the experience is way the play works on so many intellectual levels.
The fact that the characters are able to stand outside themselves offering narration on the situation indicates their awareness about what is happening to them. The locations inside their home (attic, main floor and basement) can be metaphors for the Id,. Ego and Super-Ego that bring a richer psychological resonance to the work. The fact that Kali is also the name of the Hindu Goddess of Death and Destruction adds a mythical element to the material.
Stockholm is 75-minute s of intense theater. Though not an easy play to embrace, it is a magnificent theatrical experience.
Bryony Lavery has written a dense, threatening and beautiful piece of theater. Director Laura Margolis and choreographer Jennifer Weber bring it to vivid life at Stageworks in Hudson.
"Stockholm" at Stageworks, 41-A Cross Street, Hudson Through Sept. 1. Peformances 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays,Thursdays, and Sundays. 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays. Matinees 2 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays.
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
Berkshire Bright Focus
Directed by Laura Margolis.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman 8/16/13
"...hallowed, holiest together time."
When two people are as deeply involved with one another as are Todd and Kali in Bryony Lavery's play "Stockholm," there is definitely something wrong in loveland. Planning an imminent trip to the Swedish city, the two have been attending an Ingmar Bergman festival to get into the Swedish mood. But that is merely a surface scraping. They are actually living in a Stockholm Syndrome situation and living out a legendary, religious experience as well.
According to one source, "Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes 'strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.' One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual's response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat."
In this unusual dance-drama both of the participants seem to suffer equally from this syndrome which is why, I believe, the author has placed them squarely under the flashing neon sign of the title. In staging this American premiere production of the 2008 British play, director Laura Margolis has enlisted the talents of a choreographer named Jennifer Weber and together the two of them have fashioned a remarkable physicalization of the play. Love interludes are danced and those interludes are everything from simply affectionate to utterly violent and dangerous. Todd and Kali put themselves in harm's way and place one another in the danger zone. Together with the words in Lavery's script this makes them the most odd couple in any theatrical venture in memory.
The play examines the limits, the very outer limits of trust and faith and love in a relationship. The characters play the moments directly or from an outside perspective speaking of themselves and each other in the distancing third person. A scene in bed is as dangerous as any scene I have witnessed in my years in this job. A scene on the stairs has sexually graphic elements that would make my hair curl if it wasn't already curly. Though Todd and Kali are very definitive characters and this is a defiantly male/female relationship, I can easily see this work performed by a same sex couple of either sex and not one iota of reality would be lost in the change.
Kali is played by Emily Gardner Hall, whose beauty is entrancing as is her use of personal humor. She laughs prettily and that laughter seems to defuse Todd whenever he becomes too serious and to edgy. (Kali, however, is the name of the Hindu Goddess of Time, Death and Destruction and that version of Kali often dances herself into a fit of rage and when she goes out of control only the God Shiva is able to tame her just as only Kali can tame Shiva. This is both because she is often a transformed version of one of his consorts and because he is able to match her wildness.) Like her namesake, our Kali dances and her dancing is also sexually arousing and leads directly to the violence that follows. Hall dances with an intense strength that invigorates the play time after time and always ends in Todd as her victim. Hall's face transforms at these moments and her beauty turns malevolent. It is quite a performance, one that will resonate for a long, long time.
Jason Babinsky takes the role of her current Shiva, her lord, her consort. (The God, known for many things including his control of dancing, reputedly took his bride Shakti - or Kali - away from all she knew for a complete immersion into a world sexual intercourse that inspired the rebirth of long dead Gods when their mingled sweat mixed with ancient ashes.) For him she is an inescapable part of his being. He cannot take his eyes off of her and when his parents call to wish him a happy birthday he cannot remove himself from her side for an instant. Babinsky plays the enthralled man to a tee and it is almost discomfiting to watch him defend and attack and dance the heat of a sexually charged being in her presence.
This highly unusual use of Hindu legends has clearly inspired the playwright and the director and the choreographer in the creation of this remarkable evening of theater. In a loft setting, presumably in a modern large city, Todd and Kali play out their mystery play, each the willing prisoner of the other, each capable of great love and great danger. In an hour and seven minutes we, the audience, hang on a wall, or on the ceiling of their flat, as witness to their passion, as passive non-participants in their inflamed relationship.
Randall Parsons unique set gives us those perspectives aided immensely by Deena Pewtherer's lighting and Ben Heyman's sound design which even provides us with Shiva's unique drumming, a keynote for his reflection of the human heart.
Weber's choreography gives us different examples of the animal lust and the murderous intent that marks these two as special and especially primal.
In a run too short it is a matter of urgency that theatergoers take advantage of this American debut and see it while it is possible. Not a mainstream work it could easily follow the course of Kali's reign and disappear entirely when the effects of Stockholm syndrome begin to dry up like a summer stream.
Berkshire On Stage
A stunning Stockholm gets its American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson
Stageworks/Hudson presents STOCKHOLM
By Bryony Lavery, Directed by Laura Margolis
Theatre Review by Roseann Cane
In Hinduism Kali is the Dark Mother, goddess of destruction, death, and time. One of religion’s fiercest deities, she is frequently portrayed standing with one foot on top of her husband Shiva, who has thrown himself at her feet to stop a killing rampage.
“Stockholm,” in its American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson, explores one day in the life of Todd (Jason Babinsky) and Kali (Emily Gardiner Hall), a couple who appear to be blessed with deep love, earth-scorching passion, and material success. As they prepare to celebrate Todd’s birthday and an upcoming trip to Sweden, they reveal the complexity of their relationship and the frightening grip of their connection. They are hostages to a cycle of eros and annihilation, at turns captors and victims, each craving escape and envelopment. More succinctly, Todd and Kali have Stockholm Syndrome.
Lavery’s stunning script is fittingly (and ironically) non-linear, weaving spoken word, choreography, sound, and visual effects in a way that transmits Todd and Kali’s imprisonment like a punch in the gut and wends its way into the observer’s psyche.
Laura Margolis has brought together a very gifted team to execute “Stockholm,” which in less expert hands could have been labyrinthine and confusing. Along with Margolis’s own brilliant direction, Jennifer Weber’s remarkable choreography is gloriously precise yet wild and unrelentingly carnal. Randall Parsons’s set is ingenious, mirroring Todd and Kali’s roiling coupling, initially clean and serene, later revealing (sometimes with a shock) secret paths and hidden rooms.
Deena Pewtherer’s lighting design is revelatory, in every sense. And Ben Heyman’s sound design is precise, original, and profoundly enhances the production. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that I’ve known Ben for quite some time, and I have worked with him in my “other” life as an actor and director.)
I can’t imagine that Margolis could have made better casting choices. Babinsky embodies the the poignantly frustrated and furious Todd, and his verbal and physical reactions to his overbearing mother’s telephone calls provide a neat and surprising contrast to his behavior toward his pathologically jealous wife. That Hall’s violent Kali is as sympathetic and vulnerable is a testament to Hall’s skill and talent. Both actors are consummate (pun intended) dancers, acrobatic and sinewy and graceful, making seamless transitions between the verbal and the physical.
I also can’t imagine that there will be many opportunities to witness such a finely-tuned production of this unique play, so I would urge you to to visit Stageworks before “Stockholm” closes on September 1.
Stageworks/Hudson presents STOCKHOLM By Bryony Lavery, Directed by Laura Margolis, Choreography by Jennifer Weber, Set Design by Randall Parson, Lighting Design by Deena Pewtherer, Sound Design by Ben Heyman with Jason Babinsky as Todd and Emily Gardiner Hall as Kali. August 14 — September 1 2013. stageworkshudson.org
'Stockholm' bold, provocative at Stageworks/Hudson
by Steve Barnes
HUDSON — Despite seeing nearly 30 plays and musical over the past two months, I didn't realize what I'd been missing until it was in front of me during "Stockholm"at Stageworks/Hudson. It rivals "Blood Play" at Williamstown Theatre Festival as the most challenging theater of the summer.
The play, by British dramatist Bryony Lavery, is receiving its American premiere at the Hudson company, and it it is startling, unusual theater. Bold, sexual, provocative and edgy in form and style, the play, which incorporates choreography to tell the story of an abusive relationship between an American man and a British woman, seems to be a tough sell.
But productions like "Stockholm," strongly directed by Stageworks' artistic director, Laura Margolis, are exactly what a theater scene needs to keep it vital. You may not always like or even fully understand what the play is trying to do, but that's as it should be: Theater art, and its audiences, can't grow if there isn't a fringe company pushing limits and trying something that is other than a conventional, well-made play during which characters are introduced, developed through dialogue, and conflicts arise and are resolved, all over the course of 90 to 150 minutes.
"Stockholm" is a short, sharp jolt. Running less than 70 minutes, the play is an expressionistic portrait of Todd (Jason Babinsky) and Kali (Emily Gardner Hall), a young couple getting ready for a vacation to the eponymous city. But the title, as becomes apparent, refers more to the condition in which a hostage identifies with and even defends his captor.
In this case, Kali is the abuser, and her suspicions, manipulations and physical assaults are frank and nasty — and usually followed by steamy sex. Though there's no nudity, the sex scenes at Stageworks/Hudson have palpable heat and a rare rawness; the actors bravely hurl themselves into this rough emotional and physical terrain, and you understand why Todd stays with Kali despite the damage she causes.
"Stockholm" uses stylistics conceits — including modern–dance choreography (by Jennifer Weber) and the characters referring to themselves and the action in the third person at points — to amplify the emotion. It might impossible difficult to achieve the same powerful effect without such elements. Certainly, watching a couple go through what Todd and Kali do with literal enactment out of their violence would be close to unbearable. Instead, the distancing nature of the stylization heightens the emotion without feeling exploitative, of actors or audience. It's not perfect, but after it's over, you know you've truly seen something worthwhile.
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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
by James Yeara on August 22, 2013
Stockholm By Bryony Lavery, directed by Laura Margolis, choreography by Jennifer Weber
Stageworks/Hudson, through Sept. 1
“But you do want to talk to them sometime today on your birthday, even if she is Sheriff Cunt-Fuck of Cunt Fuck City?” says Kali to her husband.
Stockholm is a 2007 British hit having its American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson. Stockholm is riveting. It is shocking. The play is a dash of Mamet, a pinch of Ruhl, a sweating of Pinter, a snap of LaBute, sprinklings of Albee, and a zest of de Sade with just a hint of Ives. Set in the immaculate, cutting-edge (literally) kitchen of űber-sophisticated couple Todd (Jason Babinsky in a performance that needs to be seen to be believed) and Kali (Emily Gardner Hall in a performance that demands to be seen), Stockholm is 70 minutes of jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, eye-popping theatrical electuary; the play is marketed for its erotic beauty, but Stockholm is for adults of reasonably sound mind and psyche. It is not first-date fare, though you may want to suggest it to your ex-spouse.
Stockholm’s premise is simple: a (birth)day in the life of the perfect modern couple. What happens is almost literally a mind-fuck. Playwright Bryony Lavery uses frequent third person direct speech to the audience interspersed with the dialogue between Todd and Kali; “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” would not be out of place in Stockholm, though Todd and Kali rave in third person about seeing Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (yes, the symbolism slaps you in the face, just as Kali will). They anticipate a trip in three days to Stockholm. They put away their groceries. Todd prepares his birthday meal for the couple. Kali gives him a hand job after thrusting him against the stairs to keep his mind off a note his mother left on the “retro-ironic ‘welcome’ mat.” Kali gives him a blow job when the hand job isn’t diverting enough. Kali controls.
Stockholm is far more riveting that just the surface sex—and the couple use all the surfaces they possibly can. The third person commentary is frighteningly alienated, as if the pair were the omniscient neutral observers of their own lives, or God’s view of their imaginative copulations.
And it is that burst of dance, turning mundane home-life activities into gymnastic orgies, which pushes Stockholm deeper into satire of modern life, as if Todd and Kali were caught up in the stylish commercials that show what perfect couples own and how perfect couples move. They possess. Kali does not give hand jobs and blow jobs; she takes sperm. She does not make love; she fucks literally as a blood sport. Choreographer Jennifer Weber infuses Stockholm with stunning dance, matching Stageworks’ artistic director Laura Margolis’s crisp, controlled moments needed to let the psychoses free.
If you know people who avoid theater because it is too often staid, bombastic, boring, museum-safe and distant, send them to Stockholm. You will not want to see it again, but you won’t need to; Stockholm will hold your memory prisoner.