Some of the spring’s hottest shows have been irreverent spins on history, like the hip-hop bio-musical “Hamilton” and “An Octoroon,” an alternately hilarious and searing look at slavery.
“Posterity,” on the other hand, is very much a traditional period show — and a dull one at that. From a character’s gigantic muttonchops to the heavy-handed speechifying and the ponderous music playing between scenes, you know this is about Serious Stuff.
The man with the overgrown facial hair is Henrik Ibsen (John Noble, late of TV’s “Fringe” and “Sleepy Hollow”), the author of such enduring staples of Scandinavian gloom as “Hedda Gabler” and “A Doll’s House.”
We meet Ibsen in 1901, toward the end of his life. He’s pondering whether or not he should pose for Gustav Vigeland (Hamish Linklater), a much younger sculptor with a chip on his shoulder and a fantastic head of hair.
Vigeland is also drawn from real life — he’s probably best known for designing the Nobel Peace Prize medal. What playwright and director Doug Wright does in “Posterity” is essentially write two extended conversations about art and legacy for the pair.
The conflict, such as it is, revolves around Vigeland’s reluctance to make yet another bust when he’d really rather create a gigantic sculpture garden, and Ibsen’s reluctance to sit for him.
But sit he does, swayed partly by a brush with mortality and partly by Vigeland’s press clippings about him that are in a folder as huge as it is improbable.
This is just as dull as it sounds, with little of the spark Wright showed in his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning hit, “I Am My Own Wife.”
Circling unnecessarily around the main plot are Vigeland’s hunky assistant, Anfinn (Mickey Theis), and his middle-aged housekeeper, Mrs. Bergstrøm (Dale Soules of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”). She complains that Vigeland should not sculpt celebrities but, instead, regular folks.
This Atlantic production’s main assets are its stars. Although Linklater lacks the necessary gravitas for this role, it’s rewarding to see him boldly move away from the comic roles he excels at — most recently in “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Delacorte.
As for Noble, this Australian actor has been busy making fantasy-based TV series in recent years, but his performance here is weighty and real — as much as Wright’s earnest script allows.