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Posts Tagged ‘Henrik Ibsen’

A Doll’s House, Part 2
by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Timothy Near
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 12, 2018

Caralyn Kozlowski, Michael James Reed
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

What would happen if Nora Helmer came back?  Would she even try to come back? And if so, when, and why? Those are questions that have been asked countless times since Henrik Ibsen’s classic and initially controversial play, A Doll’s House, first premiered in 1879. Well, now playwright Lucas Hnath has provided his own answers in the succinctly named A Doll’s House, Part 2. Produced on Broadway to critical acclaim in 2017, it’s now being produced here at the Rep, in a production that’s sure to provoke more questions and a lot of thought.

This play features four characters, all seen or mentioned in Ibsen’s original play. It’s 15 years later, and the once well-appointed Helmer home now shows signs of disarray, with chairs heaped in a corner, fading paint, and obvious spaces on the wall where paintings were once on display. The play begins with a knock at the door, which is eventually answered by the Helmers’ longtime housekeeper and nanny Anne Marie (Tina Johnson), who opens the door to find the long-absent Nora (Caryalyn Kozlowski) returned at long last, elegantly dressed and carrying herself with an initially confident, assertive air. Playwright Hnath has given her a believable backstory and a reason to return which I won’t go into here other than to say it makes perfect sense considering the characters, especially as they are presented here. She’s back in town to see Torvald (Michael James Reed), the husband she left in shock so many years before, with an urgent request that he’s reluctant to fulfill for his own personal reasons. What ensues is essentially a series of conversations, between Nora and Anne Marie, between Nora and Torvald, and also between Nora and Emmy (Andrea Abello), Nora’s youngest child and only daughter who was a small child when Nora left but is now a young adult. Things have changed lot since Nora left, both for her and for the family she left behind.

The characters and the issues presented are richly portrayed, in a sharp, confrontational and often darkly comic tone that brings out the contrast in the characters, their situations, and their conflicting views. Nora is a writer and activist now, with strong opinions about her own role in society and that of women in general, and the institution of marriage in particular. Even thought her portrayal in the play affirms her choice to leave, Hnath is also not shy in portraying the sometimes devastating consequences of her actions on those she left behind, as well as the sharp contrast between her own idealistic views of life and those of the young, newly engaged and also idealistic (in her own way) Emmy. The confrontations are personal as well as ideological, and as is to be expected, her scenes with Torvald are the most emotionally charged. This is a play of big ideas, strong personalities, and struggles to find an individual voice in the midst of strictly defined societal roles and expectations. Like its famous predecessor, this play is thought-provoking, to say the least, taking the issues from Ibsen’s play and casting them in the light of a more contemporary perspective, even though the setting remains in the 19th Century period.

There’s a great cast here, led by the dynamic, stage-commanding performance of Kozlowski as the determined, highly idealistic Nora. This is a woman who knows what she wants, but also struggles with the idea that not everyone wants what she wants. The always excellent Reed is also strong as a particularly stubborn Torvald, who is still nursing his old wounds from Nora’s departure and still seems confused and bewildered by her, for the most part. The scenes between these two are a dynamic highlight of the production. Abello is also memorable as Emmy, who although she is more traditionally-minded than her mother, in her own way is just as idealistic and stubborn as Nora. There’s also a great performance from Johnson as the loyal but exasperated Anne Marie, who is devoted to the family and still struggles to make sense of Nora’s departure as well as her return.

Director Timothy Near’s staging is brisk and physical, making the most of the actors’ energy and chemistry, as well as Scott C. Neale’s vivid, evocative set. This is a home in disrepair, sparsely furnished and seeming appropriately incomplete. The costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall are meticulously detailed, reflecting the characters with precision, from the confrontationally elegant Nora to the more strait-laced Torvald to the older, weary Anne Marie to the youthful, optimistic Emmy. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Ann G. Wrightson and sound designer Rusty Wandall in setting and maintaining the mood and tone of the production.

This was a highly talked-about play when it debuted on Broadway, which is fitting considering it’s a sequel to a play that’s been talked about, thought about, and written about for almost 140 years. That time difference adds a lot of perspective to this piece, revisiting the original setting but with a tone change that provides a contemporary flair. With the Rep’s first-rate production values, energetic staging, and strong cast, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is sure to get audiences thinking, and talking.

Caralyn Kozlowski, Andrea Abello
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting A Doll’s House, Part 2 until November 4, 2018

 

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A Doll’s House
by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 2, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

A Doll’s House is a much-performed and studied classic of theatre by famed 19th Century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s been celebrated and criticized over the decades for its feminist message, and its central role has been played by many accomplished actresses. At Stray Dog Theatre, this play represents a revolution of sorts, as it brings this always good theatre company into a new level of excellence, especially where non-musical plays are concerned.

The story, set in a small town in Norway in 1879, follows pampered housewife Nora Helmer (Nicole Angeli), who lives a seemingly idyllic existence as the wife of respected local business man Torvald (Ben Ritchie), who has just accepted a prestigious job as manager of a local bank. Her husband dotes on her, calling her his “Songbird” and “Skylark” and treating her something like an overgrown child. Nora has her own children, too–two young sons (Joe Webb as Ivar, Simon Desilets as Bobby) and a baby daughter, cared for by Nora’s childhood nanny, Anne-Marie. Her house is well-appointed and her husband’s reputation is impeccable. He’s frequently visited by his old friend, the kind but sickly Dr. Rank (John N. Reidy), and revels in the prospect of his new job and the money and status it will give him and the family, including Nora, who seems to enjoy spending his money.  As simple and stereotypical as Nora may seem at first, however, we soon learn of secrets that she is hiding even from her husband. As old school friend Kristine Linde (Rachel Hanks) arrives, newly widowed and looking for a job, Nora reveals the truth about her past with Torvald, and exactly how she was able to afford a trip to Italy some years previous that proved lifesaving for him but put Nora into the debt of Nils Krogstad (Stephen Peirick), a disgraced and disgruntled employee of the bank who is at risk of losing his job when Torvald takes over, and who desperately doesn’t want that to happen. As events progress and more is revealed about Krogstad, Kristine, Dr. Rank, and especially Torvald, Nora is forced to examine the life she has led and her future with the man she’s married to but isn’t sure she knows as well as she had thought.

This play is masterfully constructed, and even though it was written over 100 years ago and is focused on a specific time and place, it still has resonance today in terms of the roles of men and women in marriage, societal expectations and personal agency. In a way, this play is something of a counterpoint to another Ibsen classic, Hedda Gabler, depicting a woman’s plight amid the expectations of society but with somewhat different circumstances and drastically different conclusions. At Stray Dog, director Gary F. Bell has staged this work meticulously, emphasizing character relationships and pacing the show with just the right balance of urgency and patience, allowing the characters’ decisions and thought processes to convey believably and with resonance.  It all takes place on an exquisitely wrought birdcage-like set designed by Robert J. Lippert, with sumptuous, richly detailed costumes by Eileen Engel that evoke the era and style of period with excellence. These qualities are strongly supported as well by Tyler Duenow’s excellent lighting and Justin Been’s clear sound.  It’s a stunning technical production, augmenting the truly first-rate performances of the cast.

As Nora, Angeli excels. I’ve seen her in many plays over the years, and she continues to impress with her sheer ability to lose herself in a role. She inhabits Nora here with an impressive mixture of girlishness, shrewdness, vulnerability, and an underlying intelligence that shows itself more as the story plays out. She makes Nora’s journey 100% credible, and she shines in all her scenes, especially with Ritchie, also impressive as the controlling, self-absorbed but emotionally dependent Torvald. Also making strong impressions are Reidy as the earnest, kind but ultimately sad Dr. Rank, Hanks as the determined, honest Kristine, and Peirick as the oily, desperate Krogstad, whose villainy has a distinct reason. The whole supporting cast is strong, as well, with Melanie Kozak impressing as the all-seeing family maid Helene, and convincing performances from Renard as kindly nanny Anne-Marie and young Webb and Desilets as the Helmers’ sons. This is a strong script, and it demands a strong cast, which Stray Dog’s production emphatically provides.

Stray Dog Theatre is an excellent theatre company, and I’ve seen some wonderful shows there over the years, especially in the area of musical theatre. With this timely, transcendent production of A Doll’s House, though, this company has achieved a new level of excellence with a non-musical play. It’s a production that manages to celebrate Ibsen and shine a light on the plight of women in society in his time as well as now. This is a challenging work, and SDT has more than met that challenge. It’s a truly superb production.

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting A Doll’s House at the Tower Grove Abbey until February 18, 2017.

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Here in the second part of my London series, I’m reviewing the two plays I saw in one day.  It was only the second time I had seen two shows in the same day, as well as the first time I ever stood in line for “Day Seats” for a show.  That was a fairly painless experience except it wasn’t exactly warm that day, and my friend and I had to wait for about an hour before the doors opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre, but we were first in line and able to get our front row seats for 10 pounds each.  The bargain was worth the wait.  It was a mixture of serious drama and crazy comedy that day, featuring three performers I was most familiar with through the UK TV show Gavin and Stacey, with one (Sheridan Smith) acting against type and the other two (Adrian Scarborough and Rob Brydon) playing more expected roles but doing them extremely well.  Here are my reviews:

Hedda Gabler

By Henrik Ibsen

In a version by Brian Friel

Directed by Anna Mackmin

Old Vic Theatre, London

October 27, 2012

I am almost ashamed to admit I had never seen or read this play before I saw it in London, despite its being an extremely well-known classic of the theatre by the famed 19th Century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and my having heard much about it.  I had read some Ibsen  in drama class in high school, but for some reason never got around to this one.  The main draw for me to see this play was the much talked-about performance in the title role by Sheridan Smith, a television and stage actress much more well-known for comic roles than for serious drama.

This is a new translation with some embellishments by Irish playwright Brian Friel, and I’ve seen reviews that criticize some of Friel’s dialogue choices, but since this is the only version of the play I have seen, I can only review what I saw, and I thought it was excellent.  All aspects of the production, from the inventive set which allowed action to occur and be seen in several rooms behind the main performance area, to the minimalistic but highly effective use of music, to the meticulously detailed costumes and universally superb performances, made this a production worth seeing and remembering for a long time.

This is the story of Hedda Gabler, the strong-willed and self-centered daughter of a general who has married, against general expectation, an earnest and dedicated but seemingly unromantic professor, George Tesman (Adrian Scarborough), and is trying to start a new life with her husband amid shadows of her past and the appearance of her old paramour and current academic rival of George’s, Eilert Loevborg (Daniel Lapaine) as well as a former school acquaintance, the seemingly meek but determined Thea Elvsted (Fenella Woolgar).  What starts out as a seemingly simple character study soon develops into an increasingly suspenseful drama that takes an ultimately tragic turn in several different ways.

Hedda is a much celebrated role noted for its complexity and challenge, and it has been played by many a great actress in the past. Here, the role is taken by Smith, perhaps not the obvious choice in a lot of people’s minds, but the casting works surprisingly well. The great thing about Smith’s performance is that she really goes for it, disappearing completely into the role and bringing so many dimensions to this character that, even though she does some downright awful things, she still holds the audience’s attention and even sympathy.  It would be easy with a character like this and some of her actions to just write her off as a vindictive bitch, and she is that but she’s more as well.  Ibsen wrote the character with some sympathy inherent in her situation, but it takes a great actress to convincingly portray all aspects of the character, from her unbelievable cruelty on the one side, to her very obvious sense of regret and helplessness on the other.  There is also a real sense of affection(although not passion) between Hedda and George at the beginning of the play that makes the events of later on seem all the more tragic.

This is a solid cast all around, but the two real standouts aside from Smith are Scarborough as George and Woolgar as Thea, Hedda’s childhood adversary turned adult rival for the soul of tortured alcoholic writer Loevborg.  The common thread to both of these performances is their sense of moral fortitude and inherent strength despite their initial appearance of fastidiousness (George) or nervousness (Thea).  Both of these characters seem to represent different foils to Hedda, as well as representations of hope should Hedda choose to allow them to be that.  Hedda herself is so locked in the past—the power she used to feel over those around her and her destructive hold on Loevborg—that she is in a way trapped, especially toward the end when the initially jovial and buffoonish Judge Brack (Darrell D’Silva) reveals a much more sinister side.  The ultimate conclusion is telegraphed in the structure of the play, expertly crafted by Ibsen and brilliantly performed by all the players with devastating impact.

This was quite an intense play, and the technical aspects-music and lighting–helped set the mood.  I really need to read more Ibsen. I was impressed not just with the production of this play, but with the structure of it, and I think I will be checking out more of his plays.  This production was a great re-introduction to Ibsen’s work for me, and a very impressive effort from all involved.

A Chorus of Disapproval

By Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Harold Pinter Theatre, London

October 27th, 2012

This play was a great contrast to Hedda Gabler and, even though it is a revival, it features a lead performance seemingly tailor-made for actor Rob Brydon.  The role of amateur operatic society directory Dafydd ap Llywellyn suits Brydon so well it may as well have been written for him.  Dafydd (don’t call him “David”) is a proud Welshman who has his hand in all aspects of the production even as it all spins out of control.  Brydon brings a lot of energy and affability to the role, as well as a strong singing voice, and his rendition of “All Through the Night” in Welsh is a treat.  Brydon brings a lot of sympathy to this befuddled and at times exasperating character, and the rest of the cast supports him well, but this is really Brydon’s show.  He is full of physical and emotional energy as he runs around the stage and into the audience, and at turns sings, shouts, lectures, and bemoans his situation at various times throughout the play.

Simply told, this is the story of a small town amateur operatic society in the midst of rehearsing a production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and all the messy relationship situations that happen along the way. The catalyst of it all is Guy Jones (Nigel Harman), fittingly named because he basically is just a guy in the middle of everything.  He’s an amiable enough character, but as written there isn’t much for him to do but smile and let all the events unfold around him as he joins the society and finds himself embroiled in intrigue both within the production and outside.  We aren’t told much about him except that he can sing, he’s from Leeds, and he works for a local company that is rumored to be involved in a real estate deal that effects some of the other members of the society.  For whatever reason, Guy just seems to attract trouble, as well as the attentions of Dafydd’s neglected wife Hannah (Ashley Jensen) and another society member, the frisky swinger Fay (Daisy Beaumont), whose husband (Paul Thornley) is hoping to benefit from the real estate deal.  As Guy moves from one role to another in the production, the self-absorbed and clueless Dafydd hovers and fruitlessly tries to keep every situation under his control.

In addition to the wonderful Brydon, there are some excellent performances here.  Nigel Harman brings a warmth and affability to the role of Guy that makes his situations believable and relatable, and Jensen plays the bored housewife very well and has good chemistry with both Brydon and Harman.  There are some great scenes with these three, especially one of a tech rehearsal in which Guy and Hannah are attempting to talk about their issues while Dafydd argues with the lighting technician.  There is an excellent supporting cast of distinctive characters as well to round out the production, and the costumes and sets also contribute  well to provide a very strong sense of time and place (a small English town in the mid-1980s).

This isn’t the deepest of plays, and a whole lot of problems pile up only to be left mostly unresolved by the end, but by and large this is a highly entertaining production led by a tour-de-force performance by Brydon.  It was fun sitting in the front row and getting a great view of all of his antics.  If it can ever really be said that an actor was born to play a role, then surely Brydon was born to play this one.  It suits him so perfectly, and it was a joy to watch him and this whole hilarious production.

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