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Master at work

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His character may be wrapped up in illusory aspirations, but John Turturro remains grounded in his performance at a play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Turturro stars as an ambitious architect in the Henry Ibsen play “The Master Builder,” one of BAM’s theatrical highlights this spring. During an artist talk with Turturro and director, Andrei Belgrader, Belgrader described the drama of the play.

“[Turturro’s character Halvard Solness] has a wife and an office and he does all sorts of evil things [with his secretary] that I will not disclose. It’s too shameful,” he said.

“Then some young girl just shows up and miraculous things start.”

Actor Katherine Borowitz is perfectly admirable in her pitiable portrayal of Alice Solness, the master builder’s guilt-stricken wife. Wrenn Schmidt, who plays the child-temptress, Hilde Wangel, charms the master builder and the audience with her burning eyes and beguiling body language.

“There is a lot of sexual, esoteric, and philosophical tension provoked by the girl, who is an extraordinary being. Things start moving into a very unusual direction,” said Belgrader.

“For those of you who have read it, I beg you to forget how it ends so you can be surprised. But you will still be surprised.”

Turturro said he has a personal connection with the play.

“I thought there was some kind of savage and really elemental theme,” said Turturro.

“It was a play I had worked on at Yale. My father was a builder, so maybe that’s why I picked it up.”

It’s not the first time Turturro has worked with the director. BAM audiences first saw Belgrader and Turturro collaborating on the Samuel Beckett play “Endgame” in 2008. However, the duo goes back a long way back.

“I thought (Turturro) was brilliant right away. I did. I actually did. Even though that was a horrible class,” recalled Belgrader.

Despite the play’s conception more than a century ago, its multilayered themes are familiar to audiences today. Its allure lies in the unmasking of man’s egoistic nature.

“When you look at tiny children. They want to be the only child in the world And that doesn’t always go away,” said Belgrader. “What makes the play interesting is that it has a universal something that’s very recognizab­le.”

The production is an attempt to make the play more accessible for audiences who aren’t necessarily familiar with the material, which can be an arduous task to learn and perform, said Turturro.

“This is a much thinner translation. We’re trying to make it alive so people stay awake,” laughed Turturro.

“When you have all of [the passages], it’s like climbing up a mountain with a big backpack. You can’t play it and you can’t receive it because the actor has to do all these pyrotechnics… If you can make a production that’s vital, then people can relate to it for long time.”

“The Master Builder” at BAM Harvey Theater [651 Fulton Street, (718) 636–4100,]. Through June 9, various times.

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