BWW Reviews: NORA in Westport
Ibsen's play is reduced to the five core characters of Torvald Helmer (Lucas Hall), his wife Nora (Liv Rooth), their friend Dr. Rank (LeRoy McClain), her friend Kristine Linde (Stephanie Janssen) and his colleague-turned-blackmailer Nils Krogstad (Shawn Fagan). Gone are the maid, the nanny, the children and the porter. Seriously, who needs them in a play that has such strong characters and great bones? The story is intact. The play opens as Nora wraps Christmas presidents with the purity of childlike delight. Torvald cautions her to be frugal until his new job starts right after New Year's Day. Enter Kristine, Nora's impecunious widowed friend, who draws out Nora's secret, Krogstad, the source of that secret, and Dr. Rank, who invariably gives Nora a welcome interruption in her carefully composed life.
Here is where Bergman's adaptation, Frederick J. Marker and Lise-Lone Marker's impeccable translation, David Kennedy's direction and the cast's performance shine. The characters seem real, multidimensional and contemporary. Hall does not play Nora's husband as Torvald the Terrible Tyrant, but as a man who is grateful for being able to survive tough times. Rooth's Nora is more of a trophy wife than a rag doll. She is vibrant, playful, astute and vulnerable. Fagan's Krogstad is moving even through his bitterness of having lost in love and knowing he is losing his job. Janssen's is credible as a woman whose unchosen role in life is to help everyone around her. McClain is dignified as someone who is trying to make the best of his terminal illness. As you watch them on stage, you can almost see your friends and acquaintances among them. In the end, the play is not just about Nora's reawakening, but of all the characters' reevaluating their lives, their dreams, their goals and their focus. It's about survival and being resigned to one's destiny.
The sparseness of the set is fine except when the sofa and the mailbox mysteriously moved in between acts, while the Christmas tree stayed put and when characters appeared to walk through the walls. That said, there was no ambiguity whatsoever when Nora left and closed the "door." Performed with Rooth's decisiveness and under Kennedy's direction, there is no question that Nora was going to make the next stages of her life without Torvald and that he is the one who will be at least as vulnerable as she. It's probably just my opinion, but I never bought into the idea that Nora was anything less than clever and self-serving. She knew what she was doing when she was forging her father's signature. She just changed her goals. In addition, I never understood why people assumed that Nora had to be a child-like, fragile-looking person. I saw the A Doll's House in New York with the 6'0" Janet McTeer and never thought Nora was miscast because of McTeer's height. After seeing Nora, it's hard to imagine anyone playing the part with an interpretation that differs much Rooth's.
Kudos also to Katherine Roth for emphasizing the timelessness of the show with her modern costumes. Matthew Richards' lighting design perfectly captured the moods throughout the play. I hope someone videotaped this for posterity. All aspiring playwrights need to see this. And so should all theatre lovers. Nora plays at the Westport Country Playhouse through August 2 at 25 Powers Court in Westport. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.