WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 – Can an earnest pair of Norwegian misfits build a new career as hit men based on the simple proposition that everyone wants someone dead at least once in their life?
Apparently they can. That is, if enough mean-spirited Southern girls get drunk enough to hire them after being unceremoniously dumped at Italian restaurants before they can find a lover. Oh yes, and before the first freeze of winter sets in.
The directors of Scena Theatre—a company that specializes in producing cutting edge American plays with European themes—have gone east-of-the-river to the cozy confines of the Anacostia Playhouse in southeast D.C. to stage the area premiere of “The Norwegians,” a dark new comedy by feminist playwright C. Denby Swanson. Its plot revolves around two scorned women who enlist two “nice Norwegian gangsters” to whack their ex-lovers and the strange interplay and tension that develops as the plot unfolds.
Artistic director Robert McNamara directs this tight two-act, two-hour drama that never seems to lose its momentum even among the dozen or more shifts in dark dialogue between Tor and Gus’s rustic headquarters and the cozy bar where Olive and Betty commiserate over cheap drinks and frequent trips to the ladies’ room.
Swanson’s Texas roots and award-winning theater credits combine to inhabit her vengeful pair of Thelma and Louise heroines played with passion and pathos by Nanna Ingvarsson (as bitter Kentucky native Betty) and Nora Achrati (as transplanted Texan Olive). Olive lets Betty talk her into finding a qualified hit man to whack her ex-lover, and soon this show is on the road.
Looking for business, our two Norwegian amigos, Minnesota Murder Inc.’s own CEO, Hitman Tor—portrayed with a spot-on Minnesota accent flavored with a faintly nasal Canadian delivery by local Wilson High and American University graduate Ron Litman—along with his director of marketing buddy Gus—perfectly portrayed by the brooding Brian Hemmingsen—have designed multiple business card layouts, replete with logos and seasonal themes, that seem to bring in a steady stream of referrals from the lonely ladies that throng happy hour bars throughout the region.
Our pair of anti-heroes serve home-made elderberry wine around their cozy office table, replete with red checkerboard table cloth and Naugahyde chairs, while they bond with their would-be clients and make sure to thoroughly check out Olive’s referral source.
As the plot thickens, we begin to learn a bit more about these edgy characters. For example, it turns out that Gus is actually only “half-Norwegian,” according to Tor. His wife cheated on him and then left him for the sin of bringing her lemonade while she was cutting the lawn. It seems he was just “too nice.”
Unfortunately, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now, hit man Gus takes out his displaced anger on his victims with a wooden Louisville Slugger baseball bat that he wields with great flourish and vigor. Meanwhile, Tor serves as the brains of the operation, including duties as set-up man and a side avocation as an authority on Norwegian culture.
Baseball also has an important place in the masterful mind of Tor, causing him to reminisce on the almost biblical magic of the 1991 World Series, in which the Minnesota twins scored a seven-game series victory, trouncing the Atlanta Braves. (Maybe that corporate Louisville Slugger offers a hint on the link.)
“And the last shall be first” says Tor, reminding everyone that both teams had finished in last place the year before. Better yet, despite their inherent niceness, the Twins had mustered up their killer instinct to trounce the Braves, as their long-suffering Minnesota fans reveled in the team’s victory, ending their status as the perpetual underdog.
Set designer and tech director Daniel Schrader delvers an authentic set of northern Minnesota lodge trappings with a mounted moose head, dartboard, a pair of matching beer steins with Nordic coat of arms and a huge Norwegian flag that opens to a wintry field of snow-parched ground and a street corner lamp post where Gus and Tor eventually set a trap for their unsuspecting target.
“The Norwegians” premiered off-off Broadway in 2013 before graduating to an off-Broadway run at the Drilling Company Theatre in 2014. Director McNamara is eager to present “The Norwegians” to D.C. audiences for the first time. “I’m thrilled to introduce this fresh, modern piece by a very talented, rising female playwright,” he notes. Heartbreak and the desire to exact revenge on an ex are so relatable, and Swanson infuses these concepts with a dark comic wit. The result is a hilarious mashup between ‘Fargo’ and ‘Thelma and Louise.'”
The cast for this production is well balanced and without a single weak link. The ensemble of award-winning and notable D.C. actors in this production includes Nanna Ingvarsson, Brian Hemmingsen, Ron Litman and Nora Achrati. Ms. Ingvarsson currently boasts Helen Hayes Award nominations for two different roles in the “Best Lead Actress” category.
What make things even more interesting in the current production is the widely varied theatrical experience of its cast. Nanna Ingvarsson and Brian Hemmingsen are married in real life, and both have performed before Scena audiences for more than 20 years in many powerful roles, including Brian’s work in “Salome” and Nanna’s effort in “The Marriage of Maria Braun.”
Ron Litman recently gave a critically acclaimed performance in Scena’s “Shining City.” Meanwhile, Nora Achrati, who is expecting a new addition in June, is a newcomer to the Scena stage.
“The Norwegians” is the first in a series of four annual plays and seasonally staged readings that Scena produces. It will run through April 19 at the newly thriving Anacostia Playhouse with tickets ranging in price from $25 to 45.
Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
Approximate running time: 2 hour and 5 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
For tickets, information and directions: Visit Scena Theatre’s website here, or call the Anacostia Playhouse at 202-290-2328.