A Look Back at One of The Most Popular Plays Travis Preston Directed: The Master Builder

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Back in 2010, Travis Preston brought The Master Builder to Almedia, London. Henrik Ibsen created The Master Builder in 1892. The autobiographical tale follows an aging architect who is afraid of the next generation. The architect, Halvard Solness, works in a small town in Norway. One day he has an unexpected guest in a beautiful young woman named Hilda Wangel. While Solness doesn’t recognize the woman, she explains that they had met a decade ago. At that time, she claims Solness made romantic advances towards her and promised her a kingdom all her own. While he denies this, he is convinced that she can assist him now with his household duties, so he brings her home.

While Wangel takes on the role of housekeeper, the audience learns that Solness is the manager of an architectural office with three employees, two of which are romantically linked. One aspires of being promoted but Solness remains reluctant. Solness and his wife have a rocky relationship and it’s revealed that the couple lost children years ago in a house fire. Solness finds that Wangel and him are kindred spirts as she supports his architectural works and projects.

The play culminates when Hilda convinces Solness to build a towering steeple, despite his crippling fear of heights. Despite his fears, Hilda encourages Solness to climb to the top of the new building. Inspired by her words, he reaches the top only to lose his footing and plummet to his death. On the ground is Hilda, who yells out, “My – my Master Builder!”

While the play has been around for more than a century, Travis Preston put his own spin on it. While the original play caused the viewer to speculate, Preston makes it clear that the viewer is watching Solness’s fantasy. The relationship between Solness and the other characters portray the emotions he has kept locked inside for years. Wagnel represents a beacon of hope, an agent of retribution and the embodiment of the tormented conscience of Solness since the death of his children. The romantic undertones between the two is utilized to reflect a marriage that has fallen apart because the couple is too broken by loss to be repaired.

Travis Preston received praise from critics and audiences alike for his stripped-down version of this thought provoking play. It served as an example of what great actors and great directors can accomplish when they put their own spin on classic source material.

Travis Preston
Travis Preston of CalArts blogs about modern theater and the arts

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