Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 23, 2011

A Doll’s House

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown. MA
through July 31, 2011
by Shera Cohen

“If it ain’t broke, etc.” is the dictate Sam Gold should have adhered to in his direction of “A Doll’s House.” Why take a classic (by Henrik Ibsen) and modernize it in look, language, and feel? It doesn’t work on many levels.

The story is Nora’s, a woman so influenced by her husband’s subtle yet strong hand of righteousness that she becomes childlike. She is his little squirrel as she crawls along the floor playing with her own children. Outside circumstances and people challenge her status. The audience waits for what should have been an extremely tense and dramatic outcome.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Lily Rabe (Nora) holds the entire play together, not only literally as she appears in every scene but one, but figuratively. She portrays a young woman whose nerves are raw, on the brink of becoming insane. Rabe’s Nora appears frivolousness, yet smolders underneath. The audience feels for her plight and her future. As excellent as Rabe is in the difficult role, one questions why this particular actress was cast. She is tall and has a deep voice – neither of which connotes a child, particularly when playing against a man of equal stature. Yet, thank goodness that Rabe was hired.

Actors appear primarily as sounding boards to Nora. Josh Hamilton (husband Torvald) needs an injection of meanness infused into his character; Lily Taylor (Nora’s friend) should reach her potential to make Kristine sympathetic; Adam Rothenberg (“threatening man”) is effective as a distraught man, yet the cadence of his speech is staccato; and Matthew Maher (Dr. Rank) is lost between humor and weirdness in Ibsen’s emotionally tortured character.

The fault, dear audience, lies in the direction. The set depicts an old, stylish apartment complete with library and beach-like furniture. The sex is too playful touch and tickle. The kids and dog scene can be cut. Most importantly is the ending. Nora’s sacrifice is paramount and succinct. The scene drags endlessly, tells the audience what we already know, and emphasizes Torvald instead of Nora. Not good.

This, being opening night, leaves time to make improvements. WTF is such a respected theatre venue, that the alterations are very possible.