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26, Sep 2015

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in an odd adaptation

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. A production by Jo Strómgren Kompani presented in the 2015 FringeArts Festival in Philadelphia.

For a half hour before the opening of this A Doll’s House, the actors Suli Holum and Pearce Bunting stand on the stage flipping coins into a cup, dancing around each other, giggling. All of this suggests that they (as Nora and Doctor Rank) are close friends and that she is a playful and vivacious flirt.

The lights dim, formal action begins, and Nora’s husband Torval (Leonard C. Haas) breezes in with a cheerful “Honey, I’,m home.” This exemplifies the casual approach the production applies to Ibsen’s classic play.

The stage set, by the Norwegian director Jo Strómgren, has miniature rooms representing the doll’s house and some of the action has the actors stooping to go in and out of those rooms. In the background of many scenes Strómgren has characters crawling in and out of boxes and on top of roofs, as if haunting Nora. It’s fun —  or is it needless distraction?

Nora depends on Torval for everything, like a little doll. She’s an indulgent spendthrift, always scrounging for money, which is a simplification of Ibsen’s story. Years ago she wanted funds to take her ailing husband on a curative vacation, and Torval absolutely opposed borrowing (although he’s a banker!) so she forged her dying father’s name to get the cash.

The heart of the plot is the attempt by a bank clerk to blackmail Nora. The essentials remain in place in this adaptation, but the tone is skewed. Wacky humor counterbalances the desperate aspects of the drama. Ibsen’s character development of a maturing woman is missing.

Whether you love this production depends on how you react to its characterization of Nora. Her bubbly, fun-loving persona is adorable and I could imagine myself falling for someone like that, although I wonder why the stiff, conservative Torval ever did. Yet we soon get annoyed by her self-indulgence and the way she tries to manipulate people.

In the course of the performance I decide that I’d never let myself get involved with such an immature woman, although her adolescence does make her somewhat sympathetic.

Haas is fuddy-duddy as Torval, Bunting is unusually randy as the elderly doctor, while Trey Lyford and Mary Lee Bednarek strongly fill the parts of blackmailer and Nora’s friend.

 

 

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