If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A Contemporary “Doll’s House” at Long Wharf

 

Listen carefully, theatergoers.  That sound you are hearing is Henric Ibsen spinning in his grave.  Having played fast and loose with a misguided “Glass Menagerie” at the Long Wharf Theatre last season, Director Gordon Edelstein has now set his sights on Ibsen’s classic drama, “A Doll’s House”.  In an apparent attempt to make the play more “relevant” for contemporary audiences, he has updated the 19th century Norwegian drama to what looks like present-day Westport, Connecticut.  You’ve been warned.

  One of Ibsen’s most popular and frequently produced plays, directors, I’m sure, tire of being straight-forward and traditional with the now-familiar story of Nora, a repressed, child-like wife and Torvald, her selfish, domineering husband.  Simply put, however, “A Doll’s House” does not gracefully lend itself to the 21st century in any way, shape or form.  All you have to note are the giggles and hoots that greet this current production to know this is both a ludicrous adaptation (by Edelstein) and concept (ditto).  Mr. Edelstein has done brilliant work previously at Long Wharf with classics like “Uncle Vanya”, “The Front Page” and “The Price”.  This current attempt, however, is ill-advised, conceived and executed on practically every level.

To begin, Ana Reeder’s Nora seems clueless to the challenges of such a difficult role and is playing Ibsen’s greatest heroine as more simple-minded and abnormal than child-like.  There is no reason – given her behavior – why any concerned husband would not have her immediately institutionalized.   As a result, Nora’s famous speech of emancipation at the play’s conclusion has little to no resonance since there is nothing in this new adaptation or Ms. Reeder’s performance to support these final actions.

The Torvald of actor Adam Trese is equally woebegone.  The role is a near-impossible one to begin with even when played in the correct period.  Set in the present day, Torvald becomes simply ridiculous.  His sexist posturing would be out of place in the 1950s.  Are we to believe, for example, that he is the only one allowed a key to the family mailbox?  And, on that point, does anyone have a home mailbox with a lock nowadays?   In 1879 this made sense.  In 2010, it causes unintentional laughter.

It is rare that Long Wharf has ever had an entire company of actors appear so lacking and amateurish as they do here.  Given that excellent performers like Mark Nelson and Linda Powell, as Nora’s blackmailer and college friend respectively, are also adrift in this production, one can only conclude that Mr. Edelstein bears the brunt of the blame.
 
Michael Yeargan’s nicely appointed suburban home is ready to live in while David Budries’ sound design includes an intriguing, wistful score for the play.   Jessica Ford’s costuming for Ms. Reeder is unkind, at best, and reaches a low point when she is strapped into what is supposed to be a tarantella dress.  The outfit, instead, makes the unfortunate actress look like a Swedish milk maiden.  It is an embarrassment.  So is this, Long Wharf’s final production of what has been a very uneven season.

"A Doll’s House” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through May 23rd.  For further information and tickets reservations call the box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on May 12, 2010.


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