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A CurtainUp Review
A Doll's House
Bated Breath Theatre Company's inaugural production not only has superb acting, excellent direction and an innovative but totally appropriate set, it even has a new translation by the show's director and founder of Bated Breath, Helene Kvale.
And what a translation! Who would have thought Ibsen, the "father of modern drama, " who sometimes seems so antiquated today, could have his often stodgy dialogue turned into conversation that is poetic, passionate and contemporary, all at the same time?
Energized by this terrific translation, the cast, headed by the powerful Heddy Lahmann as Nora, creates an explosive reality that is only intensified by Mike Billings' abstract set. With its forced perspective and backstage scrim that lets the audience view the hovering male figures menacing Nora's sheltered life, the very stage seems to surround and stifle the submissive heroine.
Lahmann prances and pirouettes, wheedles and cajoles. She seems immensely satisfied with her life, despite the dark secret that will soon destroy her complacency and her happiness. She is especially strong in rendering Nora's transformation from a naíve young lady who has traded intellectual and emotional fulfillment for the good life into a mature woman willing to take the necessary risks to become independent.
Luke Daniels, in his fancy suit or elegant tux, is a particularly attractive Torvald, which makes it easy to understand why the flighty, seemingly superficial Nora would be so attractive to him in spite of his obnoxious, patronizing attitude. He's also an effective contrast to the pitiful Dr. Rank (the fine Nathan Caron) and the cunning Krogstad (made sympathetic by the talented Peter Mutino).
Hillary Parker holds her own as Nora's down-and-out friend Kristine, a vitally important, though underappreciated role. Her dignity and fortitude serve Nora as both an admonition and a frightening example of the future she faces without a husband.
The temptation to give Ibsen's realistic drama a magical, ambiguous or modern setting must be overwhelming to the modern director. Few efforts can come close to what Kvale has done. This production is not only startlingly innovative it is also magnificently effective.
A Doll's House was written at a time when a woman's job options were limited to sewing, embroidering and, occasionally, office work. Women like Kristine married they despised because they had a mother and brothers who were destitute and dependant on them. Women like Nora could not borrow money without their husband's consent and were reduced to forging signatures in an emergency.
Times have changed so much for women in the West that A Doll's House seems about as archaic as a horse and buggy making its way down Fifth Avenue. But when a production as fresh and lively, and yet completely free of gimmickry, as Bated Breath's hits the stage, we can joyfully suspend our cynicism and step uncritically back into Ibsen's world. That doesn't happen often enough, but when it does it shouldn't be missed.