Interrobang Theatre Project at Athenaeum Theatre. By Calamity West. Directed by James Yost. With Jenifer Henry Starewich, Matthew David Gellin, Stella Martin, Adam Soule. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Playwright Calamity West takes some of the basic elements of Ibsen’s 1879 drama—an unequal marriage, an old friend in need, a blackmail—and resets them in a tiny New York apartment in 1989, on the day the Berlin Wall came down. Nora (Jenifer Henry Starewich) is a bored wife constantly trying to grab the American Express card from her gruff, paternalistic husband, Torvald (Matthew David Gellin), who’s forever haranguing her about both her shopping habit and his insistence that she remain cut off from her mysterious former life.
That former life comes calling in the form of Christine (an appealingly spiky Stella Martin), an old friend in dire straits and demanding money in exchange for not revealing to Torvald that Nora apparently left another man and their child behind. And then there’s the Doctor (Adam Soule), who may or may not be an actual doctor and may or may not have money but is definitely, pathetically in love with Nora.
What he sees in her is as questionable as what she sees in her husband. Unlike in Ibsen’s version, there’s not even a pretense that anyone has gotten into the predicaments they’re in by acting out of kindness for someone else; all four characters are operating purely out of self-interest (and, in Torvald’s case, apparently inherent dickishness) from the outset—perhaps meant as a commentary on the conspicuous capitalism of the ’80s, as played out against the dulcet tones of Peter Jennings narrating the supposed end of Communism. And yet as the as the enigmatic revelations play out in James Yost’s production, the stakes never feel rich enough, and West’s goals for this project remain elusive.