Reviewed by Amy Freeman
These days, a woman can leave her husband whenever she wants and society barely blinks an eye. However, when Nora left her husband Torvald in Ibsen's A Doll's House, the scandal reverberated across the world. People often focus on that final scene as the entire play, with Nora's exit as Ibsen's one grand statement. But if that statement has lost its edge, what will speak to our world today?
Bated Breath Theatre Company presents a new version of A Doll's House, adapted and directed by Helene Kvale. The time and setting have been moved to 1950s America. Ibsen's “comfortable room, tastefully but not expensively furnished” has been changed to a spare chamber with padded walls, a doll house that serves as a fireplace and two boxes which fulfill the function of furniture. Nora is initially led onstage by a nurse, wearing only a white nightgown. She is dressed by the cast, suggesting that what is about to occur is a flashback and that Nora is now institutionalized.
I hoped and prayed this was not the case and my fears were dispelled by the production. Nora is not institutionalized: the dressing is just a visualization of her doll’s life, a life of imprisonment that matches her belief that all her life she has been a doll. Other literally portrayed images reinforce the idea that Nora's life is a delusion. It is more the stage directions that vary from Ibsen's original work than the language. Kvale abandons realism by having shadows loom large on the back wall of the stage, suggesting that Nora's past is coming back to haunt her. The celebrated Christmas tree is a coat tree from which she hangs ribbons. It is a sham tree, much as her life has been a sham life.
The text of the play remains essentially the same as Ibsen's original. The 1950s version of Nora tells the same vast number of lies to Torvald as the turn of the century Nora. She lies about eating macaroons, about visitors coming and going, and most importantly, about a secret loan she took out, on which she had to forge her father's signature. It is the lack of trust between the husband and wife and the way that it ultimately destroys their marriage that continues to resonate today. The performances of the actors playing Nora and Torvald (Heddy Lahmann and Lucas Daniels) heightens the language. Lahmann leaps onto boxes, dangles from the wall, bouncing between excitement for her plan and fear of being found out. Daniels comes off as the All-American husband, with squeaky clean looks and the tendency to infantalize and misunderstand his wife.
A Doll's House is not about the end, but about all that comes before, those years of lies and puppetry that Nora lived through. Ibsen wrote the original play 130 years ago and Bated Breath, by focusing on the relationship and ditching the realism, has succeeded in restaging it for today.
-------------------------------------------A Doll's House
Bated Breath Theatre Company @ Gene Frankel Theater (24 Bond Street)
Tickets (www.theatremania.com): $20.00
Performances (through 6/21): Wed. - Mon. at 7:30 plus Sat. and Sun. at 2:30