“Doll House” Filled with Foolish Moments

By David A. Rosenberg

First “the shot heard ‘round the world.” That was Concord and the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Then “the door slam heard ‘round the world.” That was the famous ending of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” when his heroine, Nora, actually walks out on her husband, shocking the 1879 public. Now comes “the run up the aisle,” wherein, at Long Wharf, Nora says farewell to her demanding hubby, then breaks the fourth wall by sprinting through the theater.

It’s but one of the foolish moments in a misguided production. Audiences coming upon the play for the first time may wonder why it deserves its hosannas as an enduring masterpiece. (For a reality check, seek out Claire Bloom’s available film version or pump anyone who saw Janet McTeer’s Tony-winning performance on Broadway.)

At Long Wharf, Gordon Edelstein’s adaptation and direction transmute Ibsen’s domestic tragedy into a month’s worth of “As the World Turns.” Edelstein updates the work, paradoxically dating it even more. Taken away is the 19th-century social milieu that gives validity to the story. Until she rebels, Ibsen’s Nora seems to have no other choice than to remain in a repressive situation. Today’s Nora would have slammed that door long ago.

 For some, “Doll’s House” was the starting gun in the feminist movement. For Ibsen, it was a question not of women’s rights but human rights. Instead of finding the play's universal truths, instead of a liberating drama about duty and betrayal, about love lost and dignity found, the Long Wharf production is Enron-lite, an evening devoted to money troubles.

In a nutshell, Nora has committed forgery in order to pay medical bills for her ailing husband, Torvald Helmer. Her creditor, Nils, about to lose his job at Torvald’s bank, threatens to expose Nora’s crime. She has only her friend Christine to turn to since the now-cured, condescending Torvald, thinking she’s a mere plaything without a brain, would surely chastise her severely for exposing him to scandal.

When Nora is eventually found out, Torvald is aggrieved not supportive. At last Nora realizes all his endearments – “my little squirrel,” among them – and indulgences have purposed to keep her in her place, just as her father had. Torvald has seen her as his doll, not as a sentient human being. Not until the final scene does she confront his demons, and her own, precipitating her ultimate defiance.

Edelstein, who can inject freshness and vitality into revivals while honoring the playwright’s intentions (witness his superb “Uncle Vanya), here goes as kerfluey as he did in his recent “Glass Menagerie.” It doesn’t help that this production is so shallowly acted. Only Linda Powell as Christine gives a performance that is grounded in reality. Her scene with the usually excellent Mark Nelson at the beginning of Act Two is the only one that catches fire. Powell inhabits her role as no one else in the cast does.

Ana Reeder’s baby doll Nora works for a time. But she overdoes the kittenish petulance and lacks a slow-growth awareness of how she’s accepted her life. Adam Trese’s Torvald is much too bland in Act One; his second act switch is abrupt. Tim Hopper’s Rank fades into the woodwork while Maegan Pachomski’s Ann-Marie, the servant / nanny suffers from having to address, in this version, her mistress by her first name. Is she a friend, also?

Michael Yeargan’s scenic design recalls some unspecified time period (the program indicates, with incorrect punctuation, “The Helmer’s House”). Jessica Ford’s costumes are ungainly, especially Nora’s unflattering Tarantella dress. No credit is given for the translation from Ibsen's Norwegian. Someone got lucky.

This review appeared in The Hour, Norwalk, Thursday, May 13:

 

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