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Nora: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Unlikely casting skews this revival of Ingmar Bergman’s 1981 stage adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. When Nora (Jean Lichty, mature to play the mother of young children) asserts that Dr. Rank (eightysomething stage vet George Morfogen) is her husband Torvald’s “oldest and dearest” friend, what are we meant to imagine? This Torvald (Todd Gearhart) is half Rank’s age, as evidenced in a nude scene written into the script. (It’s where Nora reads her condescending spouse the protofeminist riot act.) Did Torvald become pals with Rank as a toddler? And what about that heavily implied inherited venereal disease that threatens to cut Rank’s life short? Surely he’d qualify as its oldest living survivor.
This confusion about age is just one of many puzzlements plaguing this intimate, read low-budget, production. Set designer Harry Feiner turns Cherry Lane’s secondary space into a grim and ill-lit parlor/office/boudoir, multipurpose and amorphous because Bergman’s script blurs scene changes, much like cinematic fades. The characters loom up like ghosts (another Ibsen obsession) and segue into the next scene. This smooth mise-en-scene at least offers the advantage of a celeritous running time.
You may find yourself grateful for every minute saved, so grating is Lichty's performance in the title role. Supporting actors Andrea Cirie and Larry Bull acquit themselves commendably as, respectively, the outsider/observers Christine (Nora’s careworn childhood friend) and Krogstad (the disgraced banker who has Nora over a financial barrel). They lend depth and authenticity to a slapped-together show that bears all the earmarks of a vanity production for its star. Yoyo-ing between flibbertigibbet and fishwife, Lichty perhaps does justice to what Bergman, in a footnote, refers to as Nora’s “ruthlessness and brutality.” Her Nora is a flagrant phony and poseur from the get-go, flagging only toward the end, when it’s time to tell Torvald off. Apparently drained by earlier outbursts, Licht delivers Nora’s cri de coeur as one long, draggy whine. Ultimately one wonders why Torvald doesn’t slam the door from the inside.—Sandy MacDonald
Cherry Lane Theatre (see Off Broadway). By Henrik Ibsen. Adapted by Ingmar Bergman. Directed by Austin Pendleton. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.