Anthony Castellano writes, directs and produces a flawed production of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Although this modern adaptation is promising, it suffers from poor writing and direction, failing to leave the kind of impact Castellano intends.
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
A modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House sounds like a good idea. Anthony Castellano sets his in a 1958 New England town, in an attempt to contextualize the setting for a contemporary American audience.
By setting the play on the cusp of the Feminist Revolution, Castellano makes A Doll’s House speak more directly toward the constrictive nature of marriage on women. Nora (Jessica Cermak) is the ideal 1950s housewife and mother to husband Torvald (Perri Yaniv). Cermak’s portrayal of Nora is complicated, and at times, annoying. Throughout the first act, Nora is whimsical, bubbly, and materialistic. She hides the macaroons that she likes to indulge in when Torvald isn’t looking. She seeks his love and affection, sweetening him up to ask for money and favors. All of this paints a picture of Nora as a cheerful and obsequious child. But things are about as subtle and sudden as on a soap opera. In the second act, Nora suddenly shifts from seeking her husband’s love and approval to vehemently hating him.
Castellano has kept the essential moments and plot points of Ibsen’s original (Nora has borrowed money from Nils Krogstad to save Torvald’s life; widowed friend Christine seeks a job from Torvald; and Dr. Rank secretly loves Nora). He even tries to colloquialize the language in his script to naturalize and contemporize the dialogue. But what ends up happening is a feeling of distance by the actors from their lines; we never feel like the actors are committed to the things they are saying. Again, like a soap opera it’s just a conveyance from plot point A to plot point B, and it’s made worse by the lack of chemistry, their poor timing, and constant line flubbing. At least a soap opera can reshoot a scene; live, it turns realism into farce. The show also drags, making one wish for a comfy couch and a fast-forward button.
Thankfully, the second act is much more exciting than the first. The best moment in the show is when Nora confronts Torvald about treating her like a doll in his perfect house. It’s the perfect time for Cermak to come alive: at last she’s realistic and believable. All of the ridiculousness and annoyance that surrounded her in the first act is ameliorated by this new, fully conscious and socially aware Nora. Castellano’s plan connects, too, as the gender construct of marriage in the 1950s comes to light! It justifies, if only slightly, Cermak’s earlier portrayal of Nora. Even if Cermak chose to portray Nora with the intent of highlighting her transformation, this decision—and the audience’s realization of it—arrives a little too late. By this time, the audience is ready to high-tail it right out of the theater with Nora.
A Doll’s House has its moments; particularly during lines that bring the motifs of Ibsen’s work to life. At one point, Nora says, “It is much easier to be a man than a woman.” During their argument, Torvald tells his wife, “Appearance is everything,” to which Nora responds with the line, “I must think for myself.” These lines clearly reflect Hip Obscurity’s mission to explore modern, relevant issues.
The original play condemns the traditional gender roles in 19th-century marriage. This production seeks to make the play more relevant by setting it in the equally rigid environment of The United States in the 1950s. But this amendment isn’t enough. With further development and writing revisions, A Doll’s House could be a wonderfully provocative production that confronts issues of gender we still face today. As it stands, Castellano’s poor direction is only further hindered by a lackluster cast.
A Doll’s House (approximately 2 hours, including one 10-minute intermission)
American Theatre of Actors (314 W54th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Tickets: $18; $15 for students (http://www.brownpapertickets.com)
Performances concluded on January 24, 2010
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.