It takes an Ibsen to describe societal ills

 

Greg Matthew Anderson and Cher Álvarez in "A Doll's House" at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Greg Matthew Anderson and Cher Álvarez in “A Doll’s House” at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

‘A Doll’s House’

3 stars

Arguably, a play that has been cut down to some of its basic tenets and character features works for some audiences and with some scripts. However, the 95-minute, one-act Sandra Delgado-Michael Halberstam adaption of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House (also called “A Doll House”) now at Writers Theatre, left me yearning for the original, three-act play.

To me, what makes the adaption worth seeing is its superb acting and directing.

The show nicely fits into scenic designer Arnel Sancianco’s charming Victorian parlor in WT’s intimate Gillian Theatre. It brings the action so close to the audience that no characters’ telling facial expressions, nods and shoulder shrugs are missed.

Well helmed by Lavina Jadhwani, the characters’ body language is as important as what they are saying and not saying. Both those points are essential in this version because of the missing character development that is found in Ibsen’s original play.

 

Tiffany Renee Johnson (Christine) and Adam Poss (Krogstad) in A Doll's House at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Tiffany Renee Johnson (Christine) and Adam Poss (Krogstad) in A Doll’s House at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Cher Álvarez does a fine Nora Helmer, a young, attractive woman who is chided by husband Torvald (Greg Matthew Anderson) for indulging in cookies and shopping.

What Torvald, a rising banker who strongly believes in the male-dominated world of  the play’s 1879 Norwegian setting, doesn’t know until the end, is that his seemingly flighty wife had to forge her father’s signature to a loan in order to get money needed to take him to Italy so he could recover from an illness.

Most of the play wraps around her attempts to keep Torvald from finding out when the person who loaned her the money,Nils Krogstad, (Adam Poss) is about to lose his position in her husband’s bank.

Meanwhile, she encourages Torvald’s views of her as a squirrel, a butterfly, a plaything in order to keep him happy and her position as the wife of a successful banker, secure.

Little is exhibited of Torvald’s narcissism that is evident in Ibsen’s story. Sometimes, repeat phrases are needed to hammer home a character’s flaws.

But the characters of Krogstad, well interpreted by Poss, and of Nora’s old school friend, Christine Linde excellently portrayed by Tiffany Renee Johnson, appear better fleshed out in WT’s show than in some other versions.

It turns out that Linde and Krogstad used to have a relationship and that has a bearing on the play’s outcome.

Kudos also go to Amy J. Carle as the maid/ sometime nanny who says little but whose gestures express a great deal.

An underlying theme is that the wrongs of the fathers or parents play out in the next generation. Backed up by Torvald’s beliefs, it makes Nora afraid to be with her children.

Dr Rank,( Bradley Grant Smith) a friend of the family who is secretly in love with Nora, has a spine condition that he thinks goes back to his father’s dissolute affairs.

 

Bradley Grant Smith (Dr. Rank) and Cher Alvarez (Nora) in Writers Theatre's A Doll House. (Michael Brosilow hoto)
Bradley Grant Smith (Dr. Rank) and Cher Alvarez (Nora) in Writers Theatre’s A Doll House. (Michael Brosilow hoto)

Izumi Inaba’s costumes perfectly set the era.

Ibsen was very insightful when describing the era’s one-sided view of women and the constraints society and law placed on them so his play really prepares audiences for the traditional ending of Nora’s famous slamming-the-door on her patronizing husband.

Torvald complains “I don’t understand you.”  Nora complains that “During eight whole years. . . we have never exchanged one serious word about serious things.”

She also observes that he and her father have treated her like a plaything, a doll. But Torvald notes that he forgives her and loves her more because she is dependent on him,”like a child.”

A problem I have with the current adaptation is that Nora’s standing up to Torvald after he violently reacted to her forgery even though it saved his life and his lack of sensitivity, followed by his U Turn reaction when it looked like everything would be OK, came without sufficient build-up.

However, the last scene when Nora goes out the door, is perfect. (No alert, here).

Ibsen’s “A Doll House” is based on the true story of novelist Laura Kieler, a friend of Ibsen who did get an illegal loan so she could take her ill husband to Italy. Her husband reacted like Torvald does, but divorced her before committing her to an asylum, then taking her back.  

DETAILS: “A Doll’s House” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 15. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call  (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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