By Luke Evans
A Diamond in the Rough
The Stronger was originally intended to debut as part of the inaugural season of Strindberg’s Scandinavian Experimental Theatre. Strindberg started the theatre with his wife, Siri von Essen, who had wanted to return to acting, and for himself, as he had grown weary of mainstream theatres. Strindberg had accepted submissions from numerous other writers for the first season, but hadn’t liked any of them enough, and so the program was instead made up of his own plays.
During this period, Strindberg had become very interested in writing short plays, and thus the opening program consisted of three of his own one-act plays: Miss Julie, Creditors, and The Stronger. The censors tried to block them from putting on Miss Julie, due to the indecent language and sexual content, but the company stubbornly refused to stop rehearsing it. Ultimately, however, they were forced to pull the production and replace it with Strindberg’s Pariah.
All of the productions utilized very sparse sets. One reason was the theatre’s small budget, but Strindberg also did not prioritize opulent sets. He wanted to focus more on the psychology of the characters than their external circumstances. Strindberg biographer Eszter Scalczer argues that this reflected a misunderstanding of the naturalism Strindberg was trying to emulate.
The program was met with mixed reviews. Creditors was brought down by what critics considered to be weak performances, but Siri von Essen’s performance as Mrs. X in The Stronger was well-received. Unfortunately, the artistic inconsistency of the productions led to poor attendance, and the theatre group disbanded after only two performances. Interestingly, despite being considered the highlight of the evening, The Stronger did not go on to become as prolific as the other two plays.
Despite not being one of Strindberg’s more famous works, The Stronger has seen a fairly significant future life. It has been adapted numerous times into film and television, and even was adapted in 1952 into a one-act opera by composer Hugo Weisgall. The play is also a popular choice for theatres specializing in Strindberg’s work.
A Short Legacy for a Short Story
“A Half-Sheet of Paper,” also known as “A Half-Sheet of Foolscap” originated as a short story that was included in Strindberg’s collection “In Midsummer Days, and Other Stories”. The collection was published in Sweden in 1903, but was not translated into English until 1912. The story was part of an early wave of “Short-Short Stories”, or as we know it now, flash fiction. While not particularly popular in America, the story has become a staple in Sweden. Its short length but considerable narrative span has made it a frequent choice for study in Swedish schools, and it is considered one of the most popular short stories in the Swedish language.
Critical opinion has also been kind. In a review of the collection, the New York Times wrote “Some of the little sketches are very sad and some of them are very vague, but all of them are as the author has said at the close of one of them, very edifying stories.” The story has also been translated into dozens of languages. It even has its own website that features numerous translations, audio recordings, and study guides for teachers planning to include it in their syllabi.
In terms of performance, the short story has not often been adapted for theatrical staging. When performed for the stage, it is usually accompanying an entire evening of Strindberg’s work, and as such is only done by artists specializing in Strindberg.