As expected, Ingmar Bergman hasn't shown up in New York for the extraordinary Bergman Festival that has been honoring his achievements since early last month.
This puts a special value on festival events that convey the spirit of his artistry in the most direct and immediate way. Since much of the program is devoted to cinema and television works - key accomplishments of his career, but frozen for all time on film or videotape - it can be argued that Bergman's living personality shines most vividly through the stage presentations. These have been brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music by the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden.
The two-play series began at the opera house with "The Winter's Tale," one of William Shakespeare's most eccentric and challenging plays, and continues through Saturday with "Madame de Sade," a historical drama by Yukio Mishima, the controversial Japanese author and playwright.
The first portion of "The Winter's Tale" deals with a king's insane jealousy of his faithful wife, his banishment of a baby daughter he refuses to acknowledge, and the misery this brings. Psychodrama gives way to fairy tale in the second portion, set 16 years later and culminating in a scene of recognition and resurrection that rights much of the wrong inflicted earlier.
Bergman's approach to this two-pronged play is not to soft-pedal the overwrought emotions of the early scenes, imposing an artificial balance on the story as a whole, as directors often do. Instead he brings out as much intensity as possible in each part of the drama, allowing the first to blaze with unrepressed passion, the second to shimmer with the promise of romantic redemption.
This is an unconventional strategy, and it doesn't always work, especially when Part 2 lapses into silly stretches of partly improvised farce. These comic episodes are further weakened, for audience members who don't speak Swedish, by the rather flat earphone-translation that substitutes for subtitles.
Large portions of the evening are truly magical, though, thanks to the superb intelligence of Bergman's visual style - the lighting, color schemes, and choreographed movement are marvelously expressive, recalling the sheer love of stagecraft that surges through his classic "Magic Flute" opera film - and to the excellence of the cast. Chief among the performers are Borje Ahlstedt as Leontes, the crazy king; Pernilla August, known to moviegoers for such Bergman films as "The Best Intentions" and "Fanny and Alexander," as his long-suffering wife; and Bibi Andersson, one of Bergman's treasured collaborators, as the courtly Paulina.
All the action is framed as a play-within-a-play, performed by the guests at a 19th-century birthday party in a Swedish manor house. Bergman must have dreamed of such royal entertainments when he was a child in a household not free of family tensions. Today, as at the start of his career some 50 years ago, he remains eager to share his artistic musings with a world of admirers.