A Doll's House
Also see Fred's review of Lips Together, Teeth Apart
At first, Nora, married to Torvald (Josh Hamilton) and joyful/dutiful mother of two little ones, is flighty, loud, and just a tad frenetic. Torvald, on the other hand, comes on the scene fiddling with a golf club. This version, benefiting from Paul Walsh's translation, opens in, perhaps, 1970s America. It might be Bing Crosby who croons "It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas" as the show begins.
Torvald had been ill a while back and Nora, frightful, forged a note with her dying father's name on it. A bit into Ibsen's script, Nils Krogstad (Adam Rothenberg) appears. An employee of Torvald's, Nils had witnessed Nora's act of desperation. Now, Nils threatens to reveal all. He is not above blackmailing Nora. During the course of the production, Nora grows from the doting, macaroon-eating, youthful, sexy wife to a woman with daring, courage and identity.
David Korins' set design provides a home with trappings of Americanaincluding a turntable, LPs, many books, and a number of rooms. The locale is well worn but certainly seems accommodating. The place suits Helmer well. For much of his time on stage, Hamilton plays his role with a nondescript lack of attitude. He seems preoccupied with his job and takes it for granted that his wife will acquiesce to his needs, sexual and otherwise.
More interesting is Kristine Linde (played with understanding by Lili Taylor). She and Nora share a friendship from years past but Nora does not seem to hear Kristine now. Eventually, however, Kristine offers commentary and Nora, at last, listens. It was Kristine who once romanced with Nils Krogstad.
As Nils, Rothenberg garners immediate attention. He seems, at first, a good-looking drifter. He looks to be wandering but eventually proves pivotal in Ibsen's plot. Meanwhile, the eclectic and odd Dr. Rank (Matthew Maher), who is terminally ill, has his own eyes on the sometimes flashy Nora.
Costumer Kaye Voyce provides telling outfits for Nora. She is, at first, chic if not swanky. When she dances the alluring tarantella for her husband, Nora's wardrobe is fire-engine red. Ultimately, during this production's final moments, Rabe appears in jeans and dark sweater. At last she is comfortable as she, at the denouement, prepares to move on.
The final act of A Doll's House flips buttons and levers for Nora as her perception sharpens. She will not forgive her husband for treating her as a play thing. She needs to find herself and, to do so, must leave himand her beloved children.
Essayists have had field days explicating and assigning meaning to A Doll's House. This is, no doubt, a play about a woman who has been constricted and constrained. If it depicts an archaic order, that was the case in 1879 when the play premiered in Copenhagen and is still so in Williamstown as Sam Gold presents a new visual look. Nora is imaginative while Torvald is square and, if anything, a moralizer. Nora awakens and Torvald is left smashing his golf club upon a sofa.
Lily Rabe drew rave notices as Portia, opposite Al Pacino, this past year in The Merchant of Venice. The daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe, she gives a pervasive, knowing, unique performance as Nora. Is this genetic? Her training at Northwestern? Only 29, Rabe has maturity, presence, and poise beyond her years. Wearing high heels at the outset, she seems slightly taller than her husband and towers above Kristine. Comfortable with her body, Rabe cavorts with Hamilton. She has fun with the family dog Tashi (played by Tashi) and the little kids (Sol Sutter and Rose Sutter). Ibsen's story becomes more complex and Rabe paints her character with greater nuance and increasing dimension as Nora begins to ruminate and ponder. In all, a bravura performance.
A Doll's House continues on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through July 31st. For ticket information, call (413) 597-3400 or visit www.wtfestival.org.
- Fred Sokol