By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Messing with a masterpiece is like playing ball -- sometimes you catch it and
sometimes you miss. At Westport Country Playhouse, the updated and trimmed-down
adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” by Swedish director, Ingmar
Bergman, misses the pitch -- mainly because it is out of touch with reality. How
much of this is due to Bergman or Playhouse director, David Kennedy, is hard to

Oddly, it’s the scenic designer, Kristen Robinson, who captures the true essence
of the play. The single window at the very top of the living space effectively
implies a prison cell -- a confining space imposed by society. A window is also
projected on the curtain between scenes during the play’s 90 minutes without
intermission, this symbol also suggests our peering behind closed doors -- although the set itself actually has no doors. A couch, a table, and a Christmas
tree occupy the living space and the characters simply enter from the darkened
street through an invisible wall. The stage has been set for drama, so we
prepare ourselves for something modern to tease the mind -- maybe a work on the
style of a Kafka dream -- but this is not what follows.

When the action begins, we feel like Santa Claus peering into this unusual house
that is situated either in our minds or somewhere on this planet. “Nora” (Liv
Rooth) looking like a Barbie Doll in a cocktail dress, is wrapping presents. A
drab-looking woman is seen walking on the street. She enters the living room
through no specific entryway and makes herself comfortable. Perhaps she’s been
there before?┬áMaybe she’s part of the household? Maybe she’s an apparition? All
wrong guesses!

When Nora turns around and suddenly finds “Christine”(Stephanie Jansen) a friend
she has not seen for several years already sitting on her couch, the irony of
this miraculous “Flying Nun” entrance elicits audience laughter and
unfortunately it sets a comic mood for the entire play.The main purpose of this
scene, which is to develop the characters and introduce a rather serious plot,
seems to have gone right out of that lonesome window at the top of the set. And,
as the audience continues to laugh inappropriately throughout the production, we
begin to wonder if this is going to be Ibsen’s play as adapted by “Saturday
Night Live.”

“A Doll’s House” is a comment on marriage relationships during a bygone period
when women found themselves dependent on men.The “Nora” of Ibsen’s time is kept
like a doll (or plaything) by her banker husband Torvald, and is expected to be
dutiful to him. Despite her good intentions, when she breaks the rules by
falsifying a loan, Nora’s troubles begin. A moral crisis develops, inner
feelings are revealed and this in turn leads to the wife’s enlightenment and
maturity. Like Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” Nora elects to walk out on her husband
at a time when divorce was not a viable option. However, the subject matter is
no longer universal and it’s hard to identify with Bergman’s updated version.
After WWII and especially during the “Women’s Movement,” things began to change
and now this issue is irrelevant -- unless the play is presented in the correct
time period or Arab dress.

With this in mind, it’s anyone’s guess where and when Westport’s production is
set or where it’s going. On top of this, the cast is mis-matched. “Nora,” is an
empty-headed chatterbox in a cocktail dress and high heels. Her blond,
curly-haired, banker husband Torvald (Lucas Hall), although dressed in a suit,
resembles a fresh-faced, tennis-pro instead of a businessman.Nora’s passive
friend, “Christine,” wrapped warmly for winter, is not so meek when it comes to
asking for a job. She also refers to her recent crossing -- by steamboat? Her
lover, “Nils,” (Shawn Fagan) threatens to blackmail Nora as he emerges from the
shadows as your classic villain dressed in all black.“Dr. Rank” (LeRoy McClain),
who serves little purpose in this version of Ibsen’s play, looks like a sick,
Caribbean waiter dressed in a white dinner jacket -- white jacket during
northern winters? So where are we and who are these strange people we can’t identify with?

During the crisis, when Nora’s misdeed and deception is revealed to Torvald,
their confrontation appears superficial. If the wife has feelings, and
eventually becomes enlightened to her plight, it hardly touches us because there
is little transition to indicate a change of character. It follows that Rooth’s
sudden rebelliousness in the bedroom-slapping scene seems immature and
unrealistic. Also, since we never see or hear the couple’s children, we could
care less if Nora walks out on her husband and abandons them.

Finally, the stark, frontal, male nudity, followed by the house lights on the
audience (hinting at some kind of connection with this naked exposure) seemed
like an anti-climax that needs covering up -- like a sore wound. Although
several, loyal patrons stood up to applaud, no artificial gimmicks could make us
connect to this play. Enough already!

We are looking forward to the next play at Westport Country Playhouse: Alan
Ayckbourn’s “Things we do for Love,” directed by John Tillinger.

“Nora” (For Adults) plays through August 2
Tickets: 203-227-4177

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