Liv Ullmann spent a good portion of last night's party in her honor marooned by the carrot cake on the buffet table. Cameras--from Nikons to Instamatics--snapped her picture. People of Norwegian descent pumped her hand, and politicians embraced her.
Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson (D-Wash.), who falls into both these categories, maneuvered his family into his photo with Ullmann. Ullmann smiled.
"Oh, I think it's a wonderful party," she said as the host, Norwegian Ambassador Knut Hedemann, stood at her side. "The only thing I'm missing is a drink." Hedemann went off to fetch her requested Scotch and soda. Ullmann's 15-year-old daughter Linn, standing patiently next to her mother, requested mineral water.
"We thought it would be a good idea," said John Bjornebye, counselor for cultural affairs at the Norwegian Embassy. "We don't have that many Norwegians coming by--in this capacity."
The occasion for the party at the Norwegian Embassy was the opening of the Ibsen play "Ghosts," starring the Norwegian-born Ullmann. If her place of birth seems a surprise, that may be because she's best known for her work with Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman.
Kennedy Center chairman Roger Stevens, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Frank Hodsoll, and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin were among the guests.
"I've been Ibsenized," said Andrew Heiskell, the chairman of the new President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
"Sounds foreboding," replied Hodsoll.
"You're never completely pleased with it," said Ullmann, "but it's a beautiful, important play. One hundred years later people are still laughing and recognizing things and being shocked."
Linn Ullmann stood by taking it all in. "When I'm at the theater I think of her as Liv Ullmann the actress," she said. "When I'm at home, I think of her as my mother."
Most wanted to think of her as the actress. "She's a person I could watch read the alphabet," said Tom Kendrick, director of operations at the Kennedy Center.
"There are two things about Liv that I adore," said Kevin Spacey, the actors who plays her son Oswald in the play. "She has a terrific sense of humor and a great sense of herself. To get on stage must be an act of bravery for her. It's not her language. She has an accent. But after a while, you forget all about that. Some of her spoonerisms are incredible. She hasn't done any on stage."
"We're very proud of your humanitarian efforts around the world," said Sen. Jackson to Ullmann, referring to her work with refugees. "It means a lot to find the time to do it--and do everything else." Jackson's home state of Washington has a very large second- and third-generation Nordic population. "They're having a festival," said Jackson. "She's been invited to the grand opening in the fall."
From Frances Humphrey Howard, sister of the late Hubert Humphrey, Ullmann got a hug. "I brought her here to the National Theatre to speak for UNICEF," said Howard, whose mother was Norwegian. There's a monument dedicated to Hubert Humphrey that stands in a churchyard in Christiansand, Norway.
For a hot summer night, the heaviness of Ibsen went over fairly well. "First-night audiences are a little strange," said Spacey. "They're waiting--but they warmed up to us right away. And it's a very good adaptation. It's not another dated, boring academic trip through Ibsen."