There are plenty of famous men in the Icelandic Sagas, from future brewer Egill Skallagrímsson to future comic strip cat Gréttir the Strong. Yet no one will be naming a beer after Guðríður Þórbjarnadóttir, even though she holds the distinction of giving birth to the first European in North America, Snorri Þórfinnsson, and for leading a life story worthy of a Saga in itself.
Brynja Benediktsdóttir wrote and has been directing and acting in the re-enactment of that story with a one-woman play, The Saga of Guðríður, that’s been playing at Skemmtihúsið Theatre for seven years running. The play follows a portion of Grænlandingasaga, the Saga of the Greenlanders. After Leif the Lucky discovered what he called “Vinland” (thought to be an area between Cape Cod and Manhattan), his stories of the vast fertile land across the sea caught the attention of people such as Þórfinnur Karlsefni (whose surname means “a man who’s a real catch”), who assembled a group of 60 men and five women, including his wife, Guðríður Þórbjarnadóttir, and set sail. The group would spend three years in Vinland, during which time Guðríður acted as a sort of negotiator between the Native Americans and the Vikings, somehow finding time to give birth to Snorri Þórfinnsson between the random killings that often erupted between the Native Americans and the Vikings. In the end, the group returned to Iceland, but Guðríður would later travel to Rome and then back to Iceland again, where she became a nun and lived in a church at Glaumbær, near what is today Varmahlíð, in the north of Iceland.
That Ms. Benediktsdóttir could keep a one-woman play based on such an obscure tale going for seven years is impressive enough; that she could also have the piece performed on tours in the United States, Greenland, Ireland and parts of Europe and have it translated into English, Swedish, French and German just might say something about how capably Benediktsdóttir brings this story to life.
The Saga of Guðríður premieres at the Skemmtihúsið Theatre (Laufásvegur 22), every Thursday at 20:00 and every Sunday at 18:00 thereafter, until the end of August. The price of admission is 2000 ISK.