A DOLL’S HOUSE
By Roz Friedman
In his play, Collected Stories, Donald Margulies asks the question: Are authors allowed to take other writer’s stories and use them as their own? I query: Can directors take classic plays and change them at will? Gordon Edelstein, Artistic Director of Long Wharf, is rewriting and reshaping plays that are acknowledged classics. His first was Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which won the Ct Critics award for most Outstanding Play. The second was Tennessee Williams’ A Glass Menagerie, which moved from LW this season to the Laura Pels, an Off Broadway theatre. It received mixed reviews, and was just awarded the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is now on the boards of Long Wharf’s Main Stage.
A Norwegian, Ibsen wrote this in Italy in 1879; one of the most searing psychological explorations of a marriage and the first of its kind to focus on a mother, it caused a furor when it was presented. In contemporizing this play, Edelstein maintains its energy, excitement and tension, but makes some mistakes that sound the wrong note.
In the first act, we meet Nora Helmer in her cheerful home, filled with Christmas decorations, designed by Michael Yeargan, lit with a bright rosy hue by Russell H. Champa. When Nora, a young mother with three children and a nanny, Anne- Marie (Megan Pachowski), returns from a shopping spree, her hard-working husband, Torvald, is quick to point out her penchant for over-spending and over-eating of Macaroons. As Nora, Ana Reeder is an overly flirty wife, trying at every turn to placate her controlling, hard-headed spouse played well by Adam Trese. Their best friend, Dr. Rank, given a touching performance by Tim Hopper, loves Ana, but is dying.
One of the important factors in A Doll’s House is the language. Every word by Ibsen is specially chosen to create character and add to the action. The big hint comes right away when Nora tells Torvald that for a Xmas gift she only wants money to spend the way she chooses. In fact, we find out that she has been paying off a loan for many years to Nils Krogstad, played by the excellent Mark Nelson, since she borrowed money to save her husband’s life. However, she tells her childhood friend and young, poor widow, Christine--- acted with assurance by Linda Powell--- that things by New Years will be all right; Torvald is to become Bank Manager and they will have all the money and power they need. Christine’s job pushes Nils out of his position at the bank, which forces him to blackmail Nora. Not receiving miraculous support from Torvald that she had prayed for, when it is discovered that Nora forged her dead father’s name on a check, she realizes that she cannot live with him and must leave. She can no longer be treated like a plaything, a doll.
Here are the problems: In one of the first scenes, Nora uses an expletive which is completely out of character. In the second act, the Tarantella costume designed for Ana Reeder is too tight, too short and unattractive. It evinces hysterical laughter from the audience, which it is not supposed to do. And lastly, the slamming of the door as Nora exits is inviolate. I think we owe it to a playwright to present the play the way he created it. Particularly when it is Ibsen. A Doll’s House will play at Long Wharf thru May 23.
(This review originally aired on WNFR Fine Arts radio.)