A scene from The Returning, part of Family Drama with Akvavit Theatre. Credit: Karl Clifton-Soderstrom

If you thought Ibsen’s characters had family issues, wait’ll you meet the Norwegians in Family Drama, the pair of absurdist black comedies currently onstage courtesy of Akvavit Theatre, in association with International Voices Project. In Fredrik Brattberg’s The Returning (translated by Henning Hegland and directed by Lee Peters), a middle-aged couple (Christopher Donaldson and Karla A. Rennhofer) mourn their missing (presumed dead) son, Gustav (Daniel Stewart). When he comes home, they are temporarily overjoyed. But then, like Groundhog Day, he keeps disappearing/dying and coming back, until they finally realize how much happier they are without him. Donaldson in particular shines as a man wrestling with paralyzing grief who gets happier and happier as his son dies more and more.

In Maria Tryti Vennerød’s Goliath (translated by May-Brit Akerholt, directed by Kirstin Franklin), the biblical story of David and Goliath gets a makeover that makes it feel more like the Bluths in Arrested Development stuck inside a Sartre play. That sounds more fun than it actually is in this production, which starts out strong, if messy, but begins spinning its wheels about halfway through and sort of sputters to its conclusion. Still, taken together, the two pieces provide astringent commentary on the limitations of unconditional parental love.  v