Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

A Doll's House
Huntington Theatre Company
Review by Sarah Chantal Parro

Also see Nancy's review of Hand to God


Nael Nacer and Andrea Syglowski
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen, certainly resonates with audiences—by the early twentieth century the Norwegian playwright's iconic work was the world's most performed play. Perhaps he was ahead of his time, because the themes of gender relations, expectations of men and women (and their expectations of each other), and the crisis of identity that spurs an individual to venture out into the world in hopes of achieving some existential clarity are so modern they're almost cliché. Huntington Theatre Company now presents the play, the text an adaptation by British feminist playwright Bryony Lavery (though not too far from the original), and the production aiming to feel more contemporary, featuring interracial couples and costumes that are more 1970s than 1870s (Ibsen's work first premiered in 1879).

Most likely you are familiar with Ibsen's famous play, but in case it's been a while (say, since your undergraduate Analysis of Literature course), a brief refresher. Nora Helmer, the protagonist, is married to Torvald. They have three children and, thanks to Torvald's recent promotion at the bank, are enjoying the comfort and security that comes with entering a higher income bracket—ample presents for the children, a Christmas tree trimmed with not-homemade ornaments, and so on. Everyone seems content, but it's revealed that Nora is in fact hiding something. Years prior, when Torvald's health was failing, she illegally borrowed money from his associate, Nils Krogstad, by forging her father's signature. While she's been slowly, and secretly, paying off the debt ever since, when Krogstad's job at the bank is compromised, he threatens to reveal everything, potentially ruining the Helmers' reputation. Scenic designer

James Noone takes a less-is-more approach on the backdrop for the story: All of the action takes place in the sparsely decorated main room of the Helmers' home, which, with its high A-frame ceiling and clean lines, stands as a reminder of the play's title throughout. The set remains fairly static until a quiet, impressive transformation in the final moments.

Nora appears in almost every scene, and Andrea Syglowski (Elliot Norton and IRNE Best Actress recipient for Venus in Fur) has the strength as a performer to carry the role and main drama of the play. Energetic sometimes to the point of being manic, flirtatious, and alternatively haunted and thrilled by her secret, Syglowski fills the BU Theatre's large performance space with Nora's presence, revealing her uncertainty and fear in cracks and flashes as the play goes on. Sekou Laidlow plays Torvald, whose main function is to infantilize Nora, calling her his little squirrel or flighty bird or child in almost every interaction. Maybe it's more a criticism of the text, but this would work better if Torvald felt more nuanced; as it is, he doesn't quite feel like a real person. Laidlow, a graduate of The Julliard School with many theatre, film and television credits, almost elevates Torvald beyond this, thanks to his skill as an actor, particularly in the heightened emotion of the final scenes. But it is Nael Nacer's Krogstad, who at first glance could be assumed the villain, who wins empathy. Nacer (who appeared previously in Huntington's Bedroom Farce, Come Back, Little Sheba, Awake and Sing!, The Seagull, and Our Town) lends an earnest desperation to Krogstad that adds richness and depth to the play despite having less stage time. Among the male characters, we see the most moving transformation in him.

A Doll's House, directed by Melia Bensussen, runs through February 5, 2017, at Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Tickets start at $25, with various discounts offered. Tickets may be purchased online at huntingtontheatre.org, by phone at 617-266-0800, and at the BU Theatre or Calderwood Pavilion Box Offices.


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