Review: The Norwegians by Southwestern University
by Michael Meigs

Southwestern University's resident playwright and part-time assistant prof C. Denby Swanson was graced over this past couple of weeks with a university production of her mischievous little comedy The Norwegians, a piece that recently ran at the Drilling Company on E. 78th Street in New York for a year and garnered a favorable NY Times review.

I wish I could have accepted SWU's invitation to the opening weekend. I was in Sweden at the time, so I managed only to slip into the next-to-the-last performance last week.  The Saturday night audience looked mostly middle-aged or more, so perhaps SW students had populated the seats earlier in the run.

Swanson's one-act script is a cleverly ironic thought experiment:  given that Norwegians are some of the nicest people in the world, with their phlegmatic courtesy and lilting accent in English, what would Norwegian contract killers be like?

Her evening offers amusing riffs on cross-cultural differences.  What greater gap could there be than that between Texas and Norway, especially if the action is played out in the frosty uplands of the Middle West?

Swanson presents the apparently chance encounter in a bar of a couple of women outsiders, Olive from Texas and Betty from Kentucky.  They've both been dumped, and they're both thirsty for vengeance.  Betty gives the young and apparently naive Olive a name and e-mail of someone who will, for a fee, be willing to bump off her ex-boyfriend.

The theatre-in-the-round space installed in the Jones theatre establishes two locations, divided by a walkway.  The bar is on one side; a featureless room with table and chairs is on the other.  Action moves fluidly from one to the other.  With the first shift two men are patiently, courteously interrogating Olive: just who told you how to find us?

Brock Boudoin -- now there's a cross-culture name for you -- as Tor the Norwegian is the sweet-tempered star of the piece.  Boudoin perfectly captures that musical accent and kindly reasonableness; even his thoughtful inclined posture as he interrogates Olive signals abnegation and consideration.  His partner Gus -- Kyle Sapienza -- is a bit more uptight and, judging by his fully American accent, certainly not directly from Norge.  Tor comments that Gus is a bit of a mixture, but doesn't elaborate.  Those might be the playwright's words or they could be an adjustment by the director.  It matters little, for Tor is there to charm us and doughty Gus is clearly there to do the dirty work (offstage, with a baseball bat).

The cultural jokes and jabs are clever and funny, perhaps because who could imagine getting exasperated with such nice guys?  The audience particularly enjoyed Olive's confused attempts to explain Texas to the outside world.  Olivia Woodward gives us an Olive who's earnest, chatty and a bit dim.  Elise Gabriel as her counterpart, the unhappy and malicious Betty, is a deliciously gritty bit of rant.

The one-act structure allows plenty of stage time for the contrasts and for Swanson's don't-show-all-your-cards-up-front plot.  It leaves us less informed about the background.  Olive tells us very little about her ex-, other than the fact that she wants him dead. Her matter-of-fact demand seems something like picking up an eraser to eliminate a spelling mistake.  We don't get much about Tor and Gus, either, so they have to be presented pretty much as cartoons -- coherent and amusing but without much depth.

Director Jenny Larson moves the action along smartly.  The surreal interludes are puzzling: there's a loud noise and time warp of sorts during the interview at the hit men's hideout, and then a puzzling mid-play number that features our Norwegians in a nicely metrical but entirely inexplicableTexas line dance, joined by the ladies and then ended by a symbolic dream murder.  Austin composer Graham Reynolds is credited for music and sound design.  Other than providing an additional nod to local talent, these confusing bits don't do much for the action.

The Norwegians
by C. Denby Swanson
Southwestern University

September 26 - October 05, 2014
Jones Theater at Southwestern University
1001 East University Avenue
Georgetown, TX, 78626

September 26 – 28 and Oct 2-5, 2014
7:30pm | Thursday, Friday & Saturday
3pm | Sunday