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John Gabriel Borkman 

When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. and Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 27 2010
Price: $34-$55

To some extent, playwright Henrik Ibsen believed in the primacy of cultural mores over free will. Thus, his characters often squelched their passions in the interest of class ascent. Ibsen's 1896 play John Gabriel Borkman is full of such squelchers. The title character is a disgraced bank director, erstwhile speculator, and ex-con, who terminated a long, star-crossed love affair for a marriage of convenience. (Coincidentally, wife and mistress are twin sisters.) Other characters include a failed poet, a chic divorcée, a young violinist, and a dashing, ambitious young lad, all locked in a world that wants to suffocate them. Director Barbara Oliver hewed to those themes in her current production of Borkman, based on an adaptation by David Eldridge. Now playing at AuroraTheater, it stars James Carpenter as the title character, looking appropriately wilted and beleaguered in his beard and overcoat. Karen Grassle and Karen Lewis are the jealous sisters, while Aaron Wilton brings verve to the rather underdeveloped part of Borkman's son Erhart. The play can be a hard slog at times, since it trades exposition for action. In this case, canny actors and a claustrophobic set (a drawing-room and upstairs garret with arched, eye-like windows) help vivify Ibsen's world. Sordid details are part of the allure. Through May 9 at AuroraTheatre (2081 Addison St., Berkeley). $34-$55. 510-843-4822 or

— Rachel Swan


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