John Gabriel Borkman
does not rank as the jewel in the crown of Ibsen's work. Yet it is a chilling tale of greed and manipulation that resonates now as it did in 1896 when it was written.
It's three main characters are obsessed by their past. Gunhild and John Gabriel Borkman occupy the large estate, owned by her twin sister Ella who was Borkman's first love. Husband and wife have not spoken to each other in the eight years since he's been released from prison for embezzlement. Neither have they had any contact with Ella. And so, as the play opens, we see Gunhild in the downstairs parlor, seething and plotting to restore the tarnished family name and fortune. Upstairs John Gabriel paces "like a sick wolf prowling in his cage." He won't go out into the world again until he can come up with a scheme to regain his place in the corridors of power. He is less guilty than angry, a blame placer rather than a blame bearer.