Dance of Death was written by the Swedish master in 1901 and belongs to Strindberg's later, expressionistic phase, a period which produced such classic works as The Ghost Sonata and The Dream Play.
"It's a very dark, almost violent comedy," Mathias told Playbill On-Line June 7. "It's a cruel, wonderful, slightly abstract, strange comedy that's gonna be a lot of fun to do. It's very much an actor's piece, very much. It's got three incredible parts in it. It's quite a theatrical play.
"Richard Greenberg has done a great version of it," he continued. "It's like any classic play that's in another language: Doing them in contemporary terms depends upon having a really wonderful translation to work with. Patrick Marber had done a version of [Strindberg's] Miss Julie called After Miss Julie, which I thought was so wonderful. Chekhov's been translated by many wonderful dramatists, and Ibsen has to some degree, but Strindberg hasn't been translated so much in recent years. So when I saw the Patrick Marber Miss Julie I thought, wow this is very enlightening.
"Gerry Schoenfeld [of the Shubert Organization] has been asking me to do Dance of Death for some time, and I've been saying, 'Are you sure you want to do Dance of Death on Broadway!?' I think he probably saw Olivier in it. Gerry loves big stars, he really recognizes star theatre and star-actor's parts. And he saw that this was a play that contained two parts for two incredible actors. I kept sort of saying, 'I'm not sure if Broadway's the right circumstance...' Then when I read the Patrick Marber Miss Julie, I said, 'We need to hire a dramatist to do a wonderful new version then I think this could be very, very exciting.' I think we all agreed that we wanted to originate in New York, so we wanted to have a New York writer, so we asked Greenberg to do it, and he's done a great job."
The English Mathias is best known in America for his production of Indiscretions, a retitled reworking of French surrealist Jean Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles. The Broadway production starred Eileen Atkins, Kathleen Turner, Roger Rees, Cynthia Nixon and Jude Law.
Greenberg's many works include Three Days of Rain and Night and Her Stars. A couple of other Greenberg plays may reach New York in the coming season. The Dazzle has long been scheduled for a Drama Dept. staging. And the dramatist's latest, Everett Beekin, premiered at South Coast Repertory Theatre last fall and is now reportedly looking for a home in Manhattan.
The idea of a Broadway production of the often-forbidding Strindberg is not as outlandish as it might seem. A mounting of The Father, starring Frank Langella, was a hit for the Roundabout Theatre Company in the mid-90s. Ingmar Bergman's vesions of The Ghost Sonata will play the Brooklyn Academy of Music June 20-24.