Norwegian culture has shaped a massive number of the traditions we have come to hold close to our hearts here in the North. Situated in the Ventura Village pocket of Minneapolis, Norway House is a cultural organization dedicated to celebrating contemporary Norway in the United States through unique events and partnerships. Soon making its national debut in the gallery space of this local institution is theater artist Kurt Engh’s adaptation of Erlend Loe’s 1995 Norwegian cult novel Naïve. Super.
Ahead of the play’s opening night on Tuesday, September 3, we chatted with Engh about his connection to Loe’s novel and how his adaptation lends itself to a unique, non-traditional performance style.
How did you first connect with Loe’s novel Naïve. Super?
The novel is a simple story about the complexity of everyday life and the enormous questions we ask ourselves as particles of dust on a rock in the middle of the galaxy. I had personally uprooted my life (once again) last November and was asking similar questions, collecting unemployment and living in my brother’s childhood bedroom.
I’ve always been connected to my Norwegian heritage, but I hadn’t read the work of any Norwegian authors nor knew much about contemporary Norway. A book about a 25-year-old having a mental breakdown sounded right up my alley.
How does this production depart from a more traditional performance?
I was looking for ways to democratize performance for actors while also making theater independently. A painter can set up a canvas anywhere and paint — how can I make theater with that same freedom? Verisimilitude is near impossible to replicate onstage, so I stripped everything away to only analyze the text and objects of the story. Every night, a new actor is performing the play for the first time in the space with me. I gave them the script a few weeks ago, but I’ve never seen them perform the show. The actor and I will work in partnership with the brilliant sound, video and projection designers on my team in an experiment of how much the story relies on action.
Why did you choose Norway House as a venue?
In this show, the narrator has a very important cross-cultural relationship with the United States, and Norway House connects contemporary Norway to our country. Spoiler alert: An impromptu trip to New York City catalyzes his emotional growth, setting him back on track. Not only did it seem to naturally fit the play’s message, but Norway House also has a beautiful gallery space perfect for a non-traditional theater performance.
How would you describe your adaptation in just three words?
Chantal Akerman realness.