Sunday, February 8, 2015

Nora, the Early Feminist, Shines at DTC

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen’s play about a child bride coming to sudden maturity and walking out on her family, caused quite a stir when it opened in 1879.

A century later, Ingmar Bergman — feeling Ibsen didn’t go far enough — reworked the long-winded script into a taut drama with only five major characters and re-titled it simply Nora.

The Delaware Theatre Company’s production of Bergman’s searing reduction grabs viewers from the outset and never lets go.

The play tells the story of the (seemingly) happy marriage of Thorvald and Nora Helmer. Through exposition we learn the backstory: Thorvald was ill and needed a year in Italy to recover. Nora, ever the good wife, took it upon herself to borrow money from the unscrupulous Krogstad whom Thorvald decides to sack when he gets promoted to bank manager. Krogstad decides to blackmail Nora to keep his position because not only is it amoral for a woman to borrow money (plus her husband abhors debt — an odd position for a banker) but he figures out she forged her father’s signature on the note (dated several days after his death).

When the truth comes out, Thorvald flies into a rage and disowns Nora, bemoaning his fate that now he has to acquiesce to Krogstad’s wishes because of her mistake. But Nora’s friend (Mrs. Linde) talks to Krogstad, who turns out to be her long lost love, and he agrees to tear up the promissory note. Thorvald is relieved and contented to go back to the way things were. But Nora has had an epiphany: She realizes she has been little more than a doll to her husband — a pretty doll that performs tricks — and that they are not partners, because a true husband would have taken the blame and defended his wife’s honor. She decides she has to stop being a doll and learn who she really is and what life has to offer. The play ends with a stunning climax which, for its time, was controversial to say the least.

Bergman’s script focuses on Nora, driving home the divisive (for its time) theme — women’s rights — even though Ibsen claimed he did not seek to promote the women’s rights movement. The play is concise and succinct and the action never abates. Thus the audience feels engrossed in the main story without getting distracted by a welter of subplots.

All five actors worked well as an ensemble. The standout was Kim Carson whose journey from naïf to mature explorer was clear, nuanced and genuine. David Arrow plays a domineering Thorvald who can at the same time be playful and sexy with his wife as he fulfills his role. His anger — laced at times with bewildered incomprehension — is scary but his loss at the end of the play is palpable. Kevin Bergen supplies a death-darkened and doting Dr. Rank; Susan Riley Stevens a world-weary almost embittered Mrs. Linde. Chris Thorn offered an effective Krogstad, ineffably moving at his pivotal points.

Alexis Distler’s set and Esther Arroyo’s costumes were aptly period. Christopher J Bailey’s judicious lighting design supported intensity levels agreeably.

Director Michael Mastro kept the show moving at a brisk pace with a consistent driving energy.

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