Every element of Ingmar Bergman's 1961 film "Through a Glass Darkly" — the performances, the plot, even the scenery in Faro, Sweden — seems to exist solely to express his singular artistic vision. Anybody can rent it, and the story of a woman vacationing with her family, descending into hereditary insanity, seducing her teenage brother and envisioning God as a giant spider isn't really one of those perennial crowd-pleasers that cry out for multiple platforms.
So why adapt it for the stage?
Well, Jenny Worton did, and after productions in London and New York, her play has arrived at the Raven Playhouse, where director Steve Jarrard attempts to replicate the film's style in a medium that just doesn't work the same way.
Not only can't he cut breezily between scenes, but his set (which he is credited with designing) is unusually clunky. Before Karin (Meg Wallace) and her husband, Martin (Jon Boatwright), retire for the evening, the crew lugs a cumbersome wooden bed onstage. Karin can't begin going mad until the crew has shoved the bed to one side and turned a wall panel around to jury-rig a facsimile of the infamous, lumpily wallpapered attic room where she hears voices (although Worton cut the spider God vision). This breaks the momentum a little.
And without Bergman's close camera angles to suggest roiling undercurrents of emotion, the understated acting seems almost comically flat. When Martin accuses Karin's novelist father, David (Anthony Auer), of having utterly failed as an artist and a parent, both men seem at most mildly annoyed. I did admire the spooky sweetness of Wallace's Karin, as well as the physical awkwardness Timothy Walker brings to the harrowing role of her brother, Max.
But even in this era of enthusiastic mash-ups, until I see a production that's more than a dim reflection of the original, I will not be convinced that "Through a Glass Darkly" needs to be staged.
"Through a Glass Darkly." The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. $20. Ends July 7. (323) 860-6589 or www.plays411.com/darkly. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.