Sorma, Agnes


Sorma, Agnes
(Agnes Marthe Caroline Zaremba, 1865-1927)
   Actress. One of the most acclaimed and accomplished actresses in the German theater, Sorma was best known for her portrayals of Henrik Ibsen heroines. She made her debut at age 15 under the name Agnes Pallatschek at the Lobe Theater in her native Breslau. She then worked in Posen and took acting lessons in Görlitz. After seeing her in Weimar, Adolph L'Arronge hired her for his first season at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in 1882. She remained with L'Arronge until she joined Ludwig Barnay's company in 1891 at the Walhalla Theater (which Barnay renamed the Berliner Theater) and remained there until she returned to the Deutsches Theater in 1894 to work with Otto Brahm.
   Sorma had a tenderness onstage that was quite unusual, a direct naturalness that was disarming and always seemed completely unpretentious. Josef Kainz, with whom she was frequently paired in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Don Carlos, complained that she lacked technical skills, but in roles like Clara in Friedrich Hebbel's Maria Magdalena and Shakespeare's Juliet, she seemed simply to "be" on the stage, never holding anything back—yet never resorting to vocal tricks, dramatic pauses, or fainting spells for effectiveness. Few actresses before her time actually looked Mediterranean in the way Juliet might have. She was hardly a Nordic type to play Nora in A Doll's House, either, yet in Sorma's portrayal, Nora was herself a foreigner, or at least on foreign soil within the make-believe world of the doll's house. In other words, she was a prototype for the modernist actress, much as Alexander Moissi was among actors. Like Moissi, she was "agreeably" foreign, at least to most German audiences.
   That was one reason Max Reinhardt hired her in 1904 when Brahm relinquished the Deutsches. Her dark skin, black hair, and almond-shaped eyes exuded what one contemporary called an exotic "Gypsy quality." When she fell to her knees in Franz Grillparzer's The Jewess of Toledo, eyes glistening and bosom heaving, "no intellect, no morality could resist her" (Ferdinand Gregori, "Mit der Sorma bei Brahm," in Agnes Sorma, ed. Julius Bab [Heidelberg: Kampmann, 1927], 62). Ferdinand Gregori (1845-1928) played Krogstad with Sorma at the Deutsches in A Doll's House, and in the scene where Nora confronts the callous Krogstad, Nora is supposed to crumble under his threats of blackmail. Sorma's performance was so compelling that real tears welled up in her eyes, her body literally wracked with remorse, guilt, and fear. Gregori started crying as well and simply could not stop himself. She helped him get through the scene, but at its end he went back to his dressing room and continued bawling like a baby, so great was the impact Sorma had had on him. Reinhardt recognized that "foreignness" alone was merely an attractive novelty; Sorma combined both sensuality and modesty with it, which "was not to be confused with naïveté or ignorance" (Gregori, Agnes Sorma, 68). Yet she seemed to know instinctively what most men wanted from her. That knowledge, combined with her willing submission to them, often had the potential to drive many men in the audience to tears, just as it had done to Gregori.
   Sorma made frequent tours throughout Europe and to the United States. In New York she played to sold-out houses in several productions at the Irving Place Theater, introducing the plays of Gerhart Hauptmann to audiences there. She also played many of the Shake-spearen roles for which she had become well known with Kainz, in addition to those by Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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