A corpse rises to arrange a papier-mâché fjord with a plastic foam moon. A jar of relish delivers a monologue. Packing popcorn stands in for an avalanche, and the audience is invited to translate a stanza of Norwegian. What in "The Wild Duck" is going on?
Chicago's Neo-Futurists are up to no good, and on to something great, with "The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen." The playwright and director Greg Allen stages the conclusions of Ibsen's plays (often taking more time than the allotted "two minutes") in chronological order, from the Viking-themed juvenilia to the political treatises, from the psychological dramas to the morbid, mysterious final plays.
Mr. Allen and company modulate the two-hour evening expertly, starting with goofy theater games and ending with a stark, stylized sampler of canonical Ibsen. What begins as comp-lit sketch comedy becomes a surprisingly resonant survey of Ibsen's themes and development.
The actors move so assuredly between raucous send-up and searching drama that the show finally occupies some indefinable space between them. Droopy-eyed Steve Walker mocks the self-importance of the callower plays but offers genuine despair as the lead in "John Gabriel Borkman." Pale, droll Dina Connolly looks ready for a full-length "Hedda Gabler," while Sarah Clark and Joe Dempsey give Ibsen's most famous ending, the door slam of "A Doll's House," a sharp, straight rendition.
In an especially satisfying arc, Merrie Greenfield and Michael Kingston ham up the portentous climax of "Brand," then render the eerily similar ending of Ibsen's final play, "When We Dead Awaken," with bleak resignation. Would Ibsen approve? I think he would.