The mention of Ibsen nowadays often results in a frown or the look of someone contemplating gum surgery. And often Ibsen can be like that. But in his own way, and particularly with A Doll's House, Ibsen changed the face of world drama in much the way John Osborne changed the face of British drama 80 or so years later with Look Back in Anger. Interestingly, both plays have to do with women imprisoned in loveless marriages, treated as toys by their husbands and struggling for independence. The actions of Nora in Ibsen's 1879 play were so controversial they were discussed around the world, reaching the point where people were asked not to discuss the play - the first on women's lib - at dinner parties.
In the little 34-seat theatre, perhaps one of the smallest in the city, Tanya Klein fashioned a very creditable production that holds one's interest for two-and-a-half hours with intermission. It's easy to see why the play is a classic: it's absorbing and involving, so much so that the plot will not be described here; nor will some of the plot weaknesses, some of which are, yes, somewhat mechanical. While moving the play forward smoothly, Ms. Klein brought out some fine moments with a generally good cast. It's safe to say that the nine audience members seeing this play on a Thursday night must have thought a simple, shoe-string Off-Off Broadway production like this deserved a larger audience. Yes, I did miss the famous slammed door at the end of the play, "the slam heard around the world" - about as neat and final a way to close a play as you could wish for - and no, it was not a tarantella playing when someone says that it is, and Nora was not wearing the Neapolitan costume she says she is to dance the tarantella at the ball, but these are small quibbles. Do try to see it.
The set (Michael Jalbert), the costumes and lighting and sound (all uncredited) were simple but adequate. Elizabeth Hipwell as the maid, and the most Norwegian-looking of the cast, did well with her small role. Jaime Sheedy as Nora's friend, Kristine, seemed unsure in her part at first but settled down later in the play. Richard Byquist as Krogstad, the redeemable villain, was fine, as was Ethan Aronoff as the doomed Dr. Rank. Too young for the part, he nevertheless gave some nice shadings to it and brought out the rather cynical, reflective nature of the man well. As Torvald, Nora's husband, Mr. Jalbert gives a spirited performance but was best in the "sexy" scenes with Nora. However, this actor showed a distracting tendency to wave his arms and point a lot, and his final breakdown scene would have been more effective had his anger been more controlled rather than shouted. He did, though, bring out flashes of humor in his fundamentally dull banker. In the star role of Nora - star vehicles for actors like Eva Le Gallienne, Ruth Gordon and Claire Bloom - director Klein has drew forth for this demanding part from Natasha Graf, a relatively inexperienced young actor, a finely nuanced performance with a special sense of timing that was exciting to watch. Clearly, this is a young actor of promise.
Bravo, Creative Artists. You have added to the skimpy classic fare available in the city, and despite simple resources you risked doing a difficult and demanding play and provided an evening of enjoyable theatre. Keep up the good work!
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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone