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A CurtainUp Review
Nora & In the Shadow of the Glen
The program opens with the presentation of Bergman's Nora. No doubt you will recognize the Norwegian source imbedded in Bergman's five-actor version of A Doll's House. But the Swedish author has added his inimitable signature to the classic. Not only did Bergman radically cut one-third of Ibsen's text, but he removed the Nurse and the Maid, and visibly omitted the 3 Helmer children that Ibsen prescribed for Act 1 ( but here remain off-stage for the entire play). Thus, the domestic story is telescoped, withTolvald and Nora's marital relationship gaining intensity and more psychological bite.
To be sure, Bergman's retooling goes further than streamlining the familiar plot. He morphs the 3 acts of A Doll's House into 15 scenes with 3 different settings in the Helmers' apartment: the living room, the dining room, and the bedroom,. Consequently, Ibsens' unity of setting gives way to vibrant snapshots of the Helmers' domestic life.
Curiously, Director Lenny Leibowitz's-pacing works against this production. The series of vignettes in fast-forward mode which often elicits unwanted laughs from the audience. In strictly adhering to the old-fashioned staging tradition common for Ibsen's A Doll's House Leibowitz also misses some of the inherent magic of Bergman's Nora. Bergman's art often demands thinking outside the box. In fact, at Nora's premiere in Munich, Germany on April 30, 1981, the actors remained on stage throughout the entire production, injecting it with a Pirandello- Brechtian flavor. All 15 scenes had a seamless continuity and flowed, quite surreally, like a dream. (Incidentally, Nora was originally staged as a triptych, the other plays being Strindberg's Miss Julie and Bergman's own Scenes from a Marriage).
Fortunately, the ensemble's acting here is solid, with all the actors holding their own Allison McLemore, in the titular role, combined the requisite feminine charm and sexual allure. Chris Kipinaiak, as the paterfamilias Torvald, is suitably straight-laced. Eileen Ward, as Mrs. Linde, blends prudence with kindness to fine effect. Sean Gormley, as the reformed criminal Krogstad, is altogether convincing as he parlays his financial deal with Nora. Marc Geller, as Dr. Rank, is spot-on as the loyal friend afflicted with terminal illness. Whatever the staging flaws, this cast makes up for them.
The companion piece is Synge's noir-ish comedy In the Shadow of the Glen. Though it clocks in at just 30 minutes, it manages to deliver a powerful dramatic punch. Written by the Irish playwright in 1903, it is an outgrowth of a story he first learned in his sojourn to the Aran Islands, and later narrated in his The Aran Islands. This ironic one-acter remarkably captures Irish peasant life with its bitter humor and biting wit.
Though the plot is is different from A Doll's House it bears some striking similarities beyond the duplicate protagonist's name. Synge's Nora Burke (Eileen Ward) is a housewife in a lonely farmhouse in County, Wicklow, Ireland who's trapped by the existing conventions of her time. As the story opens, we see her watching over the corpse of her husband Dan (William Metzo) who has just died (or has he?) Guarding his motionless body, she ponders her bleak future as an unprotected widow when a Tramp (Sean Gormley) unexpectedly knocks at her door. To tell more would spoil the story . . . but expect a funny resurrection scene, and a woman's emancipation (sort of) from her domestic duties. One might well call this tale the Celtic equivalent of A Doll's House turned inside-out.
Leibowitz directs the second Nora play with a marvelous ear for its elusive Gaelic rhythms, and the four-member ensemble (Eileen Ward, William Metzo, Sean Gormley, Brian J. Carter) give their characters a compassionate lunacy which only the Abbey Theatre itself could excel. No hand is over played. This is anguish made comic.
By all means, go to this double-bill if you would like to see a striking take on Ibsen's classic (and discover that the international film-maker Bergman was an accomplished theater artist as well) and a fine staging of Synge's rarely-produced brief comedy. Nora Helmer and Norma Burke might not be cut from the same cultural cloth, but both women have something compelling to say about the eternal battle of the sexes and a woman's place in life.
Starting March 5th, the company will add two more plays to the rotating repertory: "Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca and the NYC premiere of Joseph C. Landis' translation of The Dybbuk by S. Ansky.