BWW Reviews: Stark Consequences in Seattle Shakes' Engaging A DOLL'S HOUSE
I have to say that I was already a fan of the storytelling prowess of local director Russ Banham especially since his recent production of "Superior Donuts". Which is why I was all the more optimistic when I heard he was taking on Seattle Shakespeare Company's new translation of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House". And I'm happy to report, dear readers, that I was not in the slightest disappointed by Banham's crisp and engaging production. Once again he has assembled a stellar cast and crew and molded the story into a rock solid evening of theater.
It's the late 1800's and Nora (Jennifer Sue Johnson) is a flighty young woman who has what she considers to be an ideal life. She has a comfortable home, three beautiful children, and a doting; although somewhat reserved and controlling husband (Michael Patten) who has just gotten a new job as director of the bank so now she also has plenty of money. But when a dark figure emerges threatening to reveal some mistakes of her past, her carefree existence could be shattered as she is forced to grow beyond her childlike state and face some harsh realities of the world.
Banham has taken this show full of what could be caricatures and formed them into real and honest individuals with not one wasted moment throughout. But he didn't do this alone. Obviously he has some wonderful source material with Ibsen's play but also with a gorgeously crafted new translation from Sean PatRick Taylor. Taylor's masterful dialog only manages to compliment these rich characters and drive the story, eking out just the right amount of teasing information to keep the audience guessing.
And as I said, we have a superb ensemble cast telling this story. Patten is incredible as the oblivious husband Torvald filling what could be a one note character with rich nuances. Betsy Schwartz brings to glorious life what looks to be an expository character and evolves her into a multifaceted woman with her own engaging story. George Mount as the ailing Dr. Rank practically had me in tears with the beautifully heartfelt arc of his character. Peter Dylan O'Connor as the antagonistic Krogstad takes his character well beyond that of a simple villain and infuses this broken man with empathy and heart making the audience almost want to root for the "bad guy". And I should give kudos to the rest of the supporting ensemble (Leah Fishbaugh, Jody McCoy, Tessa Weinland and Mia Banham) who may not have had a lot to say or much stage time but what they did was to round out and punctuate already riveting moments.
But ultimately this show is about Nora and without a strong Nora, the show would fail. Luckily this production has the powerhouse driving force that is Jennifer Sue Johnson. Not only does she engage and make this childlike socialite a joy to watch but her growth and arc throughout as her truth is ultimately revealed is nothing short of stunning. I would say she carries the show were it not for the amazingly strong cast surrounding her but I can say she is the sun around which all the other actors revolve.
And if all that weren't enough, add in a gorgeously practical yet surprisingly magical set from Craig Wollam accentuated beautifully by Tim Wratten's lights, lovely costumes from Pete Rush and one delightedly manic Tarantella choreographed by Laura Ferri and you see how an already sublime show can get even better. I went into the show looking for a good story from director Banham and walked out with an awe-inspiring piece from all involved with some work and performances that will stay with me for quite awhile. All in all a perfect way to start off the new year.
"A Doll's House" from Seattle Shakespeare Company performs at the Center Theatre at the Seattle Center through January 27th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Shakespeare Company box office at 206-733-8222 or visit them online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.
Photo credit: John Ulman