View Our Facebook PageView Our Facebook PageView Our Facebook Page
Your Guide to Cultural
Arts in America
Art Museums, Theater, Dance
& Music Happenings in 90+ Cities!
or go to
Arts America Blogs

Dobama’s “The Norwegians,” an extremely odd bitter comedy

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

C. Denby Swanson’s “The Norwegians,” now on stage at Dobama Theatre, centers on Tor and Gus, two Minnesota Norwegians, who are hit men who offer to “whack” individuals who have “done others wrong.”  Olive, a former Texan, has been mistreated by her boyfriend. She meets Betty, who has hired Tor and Gus in the past to rid her of an ex- boyfriend.  She is out to “do in” another guy, but, for reasons which roll out later in the story, she doesn’t hire Tor and Gus to do the job. Betty shares the Norwegian Mafia’s information with Olive, who hires them,  and the tale is off and running.

“The Norwegians” is billed as a “bitter comedy.” It can also be heralded as “extremely odd.”  But the best description may well be that it is a mash-up of Garrison Keeler’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

Keeler, in his humorous radio show, makes fun of such things as the Scandinavians’ lack of emotional displays, odd choices of food, sing-song accents, patterned way of living, and the liberal/conservative dichotomy regarding their life styles.  Many of the incidents and references in “The Norwegians” sound like they are right from “News from Lake Wobegon,” Keeler’s make-believe home town, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  That phrase has led to a psychological condition called, “The Lake Wobegon Effect,” defined as a human tendency  to overestimate one’s achievements and capabilities in relation to others.”

Becket’s “Waiting for Godot,” as is typical of Theatre of the Absurd plays, is based on the existentialistic concepts of, “Why do we exist?  What is the meaning of life?  Why do we do the things we do?”  In “Godot,” people wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone or something.  It exposes the audience to ritualistic aspects and elements taken from vaudeville, and often life in general.

Questions abound.  Will Tor and Gus really kill Olive’s ex?  Are the duo suffering from “The Lake Wobegon Effect?”

Queries continue.  What is this whole tale really about?  Is there a message, or are we waiting for Godot?  Is the script supposed to  be a laugh fest? Are we, the audience, while watching “The Norwegians,” a play with minimum action and little substance, also watching ridiculousness hoping for something of meaning and enlightenment to be exposed?

Or, am I, the reviewer, trying to make more out the script than was intended.  Should I accept what is as is, accepting that, as Beckett once said about “Waiting for Godot,” “Why do people have to complicate a thing so simple.”

Director Shannon Sindelor, whose last staging Dobama was the well-praised and critically heralded “Kin,” doesn’t seem as well focused in “The Norwegians.”  It’s probably because the script isn’t as clear and effectively written as “Kin.”

As is, the 70-minute play, with an intermission, is well paced and the acting is good, but one may question why an intermission was needed.
Robert Ellis beautifully underplays the role of Tor. He sounded like he was right out of one of Garrison Keeler’s skits.

Tom Woodward keeps his Norwegian “good” emotions under control as Gus, contrasted nicely with his “non-Norwegian” “bad” self.
Christine Fallon twanged effectively as Olive, the Texas lass who wants payback.

Lara Knox, as Betty, gave a clear portrayal of a transplanted Minnesotan who blames her negative actions on the cold weather, rather than her inborn desire for revenge.

During opening night’s production, there were light and sound problems at the beginning of the show that caused Nathan Motto, Dobama’s Artistic Director, to restart the show several times.  Rather than being a negative, this may well have been an omen to the audience of the strange things that they were about to observe.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Norwegians” is the kind of script that some will like, some will dislike.  It gets a better production at Dobama than the material probably deserves.

“The Norwegians” runs through November 16 at Dobama Theatre and then will move to MOCA Cleveland for showings from November 20th through the 22nd.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

As part of their social service to the community, Dobama is selling flashlights, intended to throw a spotlight on cancer.  The project is in honor of Mindi Bonde, the company’s Administrative Assistant, who is out about her fight against breast cancer.  Flashlights may be purchased, or donations made, at each production of “The Norwegians,” or by calling the theatre.  Our positive thoughts are with you, Mindi!