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No. 12 Ibsen's Queen

Norway's Liv Ullmann sometimes gives names to the people in her book, but most of the time she does not.

In my mid - twenties when I was an MFA Acting student at the University of Pittsburgh, life was a three - year non-stop manic carousel ride of taking classes, teaching classes, doing homework, giving homework, taking tests, giving tests, rehearsing one play while performing in another and touring while writing my dissertation. Those three years were fulfilling, fun and completely exhausting. I found very few moments to stop and catch my breath. One of those moments was a reading assignment. An acting teacher assigned us the transcendent book Changing by Liv Ullmann.

"Day Nine. Ingmar and I clashed today. His face looks like a cloudburst when he sees me going to lunch with a reporter. He calls me back and hisses, 'I am so tired, so tired of you and your damned reporters.' I hiss back, 'And I am so happy because you have no say over me. That I don't have to see your face around the clock -- now that I really know who you are!' We part in anger. He goes to his office and his sour cream, and I to my interview, where I explain for the thousandth time why working with Ingmar Bergman is so fantastic."

Published in 1977 at the height of her stage and film career the memoir gives an intimate unpacking of her childhood (“When I was quite new and thin I would stand by the window and curtsy to the moon three times.”), early-stage work (“Only then, when no situation or character is obviously good or evil, is it truly interesting to act.”), her first marriage (“Our marriage lasted five years. I can never be so young again with anyone else.”), fame (“Slowly I am filled with a wonderful sense of relief, while I applaud the Oscar winner on the stage.”) , more stage work (“Performing A Doll’s House in a foreign language after having played it in Norwegian is extremely difficult for me.”), Ingmar Bergman (“What is there to tell about the actual departure? The publicity around the private grief?”) and their child Linn (“. . . do you understand that I really have no valid reason not to run out to you at play and live your life.”).

The New York Times gave the book a terrible review. Roger Ebert called it brilliant and disturbing. It is one of my favorite memoirs. I so admired her vulnerability and resilience when I was in my 20’s.

Now in my 50’s, I relate to Ullman's vulnerability and resilience. As I browse through the book, I find some of her passages unbearable because they echo my own experiences.

This tells me how fortunate I have been for having lived, in many ways, not as public a life, but as full a life, on and off stage, as Ullmann.

Linn Bergmann recently published a book about her parents called Unquiet. The New York Times loved it.

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