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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A DOLL’S HOUSE
at Brooklyn Academy of Music

STIFFENED SPINES
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Dominic Rowan and Hattie Morahan/ Ph: Richard Termine

On the plus side, Hattie Morahan’s Nora Helmer isn’t one of those simpering manipulators whose downfall one anticipates with gleeful schadenfreude. Trademark weaknesses aside (her infantile oral fixation, a penchant for strategic flirtation), this superficially happy housewife is relatively forthright: husky-voiced, physically confident, genuinely charming. So why does this exemplary Young Vic production, smartly directed by Carrie Cracknell, fail to bring fresh insight to Ibsen’s proto-feminist 1879 classic? If anything, it raises new questions.

Such as: If Nora is so fed up with being her husband’s subservient pet (the animalistic endearments proliferate in Simon Stephens lively translation), how is it that Torvald’s failure to come to her rescue – by taking the fall for her forgery peccadillo – proves the final straw? Nora seems to want it both ways: to be protected but not infantilized, coddled but not quashed. In this rendering, more than most, her volte-face rebellion seems to come out of nowhere.

We can’t blame Ian MacNeil’s ingenious turntable set, very dollhouse-like in scale and perfectly poised to become a spinning maze as Nora tries to evade the trap set by her devious and resentful loan shark, Nils Krogstad, here portrayed by Nick Fletcher as more of a plodding albatross.

Krogstad is twisted, we’re told, because of an early romantic disappointment – which his erstwhile inamorata, Nora’s girlhead friend Kristine (Caroline Martin), now widowed and impoverished, will patch up by repledging her troth – motivation murky, beyond the call of a safe harbor. Equally puzzling is why the Helmers’ purportedly moribund family friend Dr. Jens Rank (Steve Toussaint), Nora’s not-so-secret admirer, appears so very hale and hearty, crutches notwithstanding.

Such musings pull focus from the marital dynamic, to which Dominic Rowan contributes a terrific tension, with bullying outbursts. He also proves a great drunk, in the loose-limbed John Cleese mode.

Still, there’s no accounting for Nora’s suddenly stiffened spine – unless perhaps Kristine treated her to a consciousness-raising session to which we weren’t privy? Maybe a play should raise more questions than it answers, in which case this version indeed excels.

 


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