Sunday, 15 May 2016

Theatre Review: A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen, Theatre for a New Audience, Brooklyn, New York

In Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism, Toril Moi writes that Nora, protagonist of his 1879 A Doll’s House begins ‘by being a Hegelian mother and daughter’ but ‘ends by discovering that she too can be an individual, and that this can be done only if she relates to the society she lives in directly, and not indirectly through her husband’. In Arin Arbus’s traditionally costumed production, currently in repertory at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, it is this transformation that is most successfully wrought.

Maggie Lacey’s Nora flits around in the early scenes, restless and alternately charming and irritating as a child (which works well with the traverse staging). As the pressure on her intensifies, she becomes increasingly manic. She invades the personal space of her interlocutors (Thorwald, Christina and Dr Rank) and displays a greater self-consciousness of the effects she—and explicitly her attractiveness—can have on others. At the drama’s famous conclusion, Lacey plays Nora entirely still. She stands tall for the first time, unmoved by her husband Thorwald (John Douglas Thompson) and his protestations.

Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson
This is always a challenge in A Doll’s House. The audience must feel that Nora’s departure—the rupturing of the middle class family unit—isn’t just plausible, but unavoidable. This production pulls it off but there is a slight shift in perspective in the final seconds. Rather than end the production with Nora slamming the door—presumably leaving the doll’s house for good—Arbus has her children, Ivar and Emmy (Ruben Almash and Jayla Lavender Nicholas), appear in the room to face the abandoned Thorwald.

The question of how a man like Thorwald could adapt to single parenthood might be an interesting one for modern audiences but it feels like a slight disservice to Ibsen’s vision, even if it isn’t the same ‘barbaric outrage’ that he complained of when A Doll’s House was adapted for the German stage. (In the German alternate ending Nora gives up her newly gained sense of personhood when confronted with the realities of her maternity).

The subplots didn’t quite have the impact they did in the previous A Doll’s House I was lucky enough to see—the Young Vic’s acclaimed 2013 production. Here, Dr Rank (Nigel Gore)’s impending death seemed something of a side note and the rekindling of Krogstad (Jesse J. Perez)’s relationship perfunctory. Yet overall TFANA’s A Doll’s House is well worth seeing. The leads are strong, the production is well designed, the colour-blind casting of a nineteenth-century play is a breath of fresh air and the spirit of Ibsen’s drama is undeniably captured.

A Doll’s House will be performed at TFANA until June 12th—you can purchase tickets here.

Do you know of any NYC productions you’d like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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