By Diana Insolio
Nora, Ingmar Bergman’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, now at the Westport Country Playhouse, is as dynamic as it is enigmatic. Bergman’s 1981 adaptation streamlined the Ibsen original by cutting much of the dialogue and eliminating six minor roles including the main characters’ children and servants.
Otherwise, the script remains almost intact, telling the story of a childlike wife in 1879 Norway who leaves her patriarchal husband and children in search of herself. Directed by David Kennedy against a sparse 1950’s set (a couch, a table, a Christmas tree) designed by Kristen Robinson, the scenes change quickly with no formal entrances as if the characters are on a train speeding toward disaster which, in the original, ended with the final slam of the door by the departing wife, Nora Helmer.
The production’s enigmatic quality stems from the fact that this Nora lives in the twentieth century, albeit the 1950’s, and is therefore at least partially liberated from the societal and religious strictures that bound Ibsen’s Nora. And her crime -- forging her elderly father’s guarantee on a promissory note that she gave under duress in order to restore her husband Torvald’s health, would not ruin her reputation in modern times. To the contrary, her efforts to obtain a loan for her husband’s sake, and to keep the fact secret in order to save his pride, would now garner at least sympathy and perhaps approval.
Also jarring is the fact that neither Torvald, as played by Lucas Hall, nor the blackmailing creditor Nils Krogstad, as played by Shawn Fagan, is intimidating; indeed, they appear to be rather sensitive men who could easily turn into superb men with a little therapy or self-reflection. Nora, played by the charismatic Liv Rooth, dressed in sleeveless, full-skirted taffeta and chiffon dresses beautifully designed by Katherine Roth, may at times act the coquette but she is too strong a personality, too lacking in self-doubt to be truly subservient or frightened by these men.
That said, this production is a pleasure to watch because the interactions between the actors (including Stephanie Janssen as Mrs. Linde and LeRoy McClain as Dr. Rank) are intelligent and often riveting as their characters grow through the complexities of their relationships. In this adaptation, Nora leaves quietly -- no slam of the door -- and Torvald is left literally and figuratively naked, a man stripped of the expectations imposed on him by a sexist society.
Nora, Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, CT, 203-227-4177, through August 2nd.