Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“If I ever hope to learn anything about myself and the things around me, I’ve got to stand completely on my own. That’s why I can’t stay here with you any longer.” (Nora to Torvald)
Ingmar Berman’s “Nora,” the retelling (a reduction really) of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” is enjoying its English-language New York debut Off-Broadway at the iconic Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village. Directed by Austin Pendleton, this “Nora” is the stunning and highly successful distillation of one of the theatre’s timeless classics featuring a capable cast and a creative team that knows how to utilize every inch of the Cherry Lane’s Studio space’s rather diminutive stage.
Jean Lichty is the protagonist Nora who is held hostage physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the expectations of a matrix of male dominance and laws crystallized in the character of her husband Torvald (Todd Gearhart). Nora stays with Torvald as dutiful wife and mother and keeper of the house because she feels she has no choice, having borrowed money illegally from interloper Nils Krogstad (Larry Bull) years before to fund the trip from Norway to Italy that saved her husband’s life.
When Torvald is made manager of the Cooperative Bank, Nora sees her opportunity to receive more “spending money” from her husband to pay off the loan and receive the promissory note she fraudulently signed. Her hopes are destroyed when Krogstad threatens to expose the fraud unless Nora can talk Torvald into giving him a position at the Bank – something Torvald refuses to do. Nora’s precarious position is heightened by a visit from childhood friend Christine Linde (Andrea Cirie) and an unexpected profession of affection from family friend Dr. Rank (George Morfogen).
Under Mr. Pendleton’s taut direction, each member of the ensemble cast portrays his or her character with a sense of honesty and authenticity. Both Ms. Lichty’s Nora and Mr. Gearhart’s Torvald could be stronger. Each has moments that shine; however, the required strength of their characters wavers too often. Some of this might be attributed to the choices made by the director. Although, for example, the script calls for Torvald to lie in bed naked during the final scene, to require an actor to disrobe just three feet away from the on-stage audience is a questionable choice that leaves the competent actor overly self-conscious and hesitant during an important scene. Ms. Cirie delivers a strong and multi-layered Christine who champions her friend Nora to find herself and create a new life. Mr. Bull is an appropriately unpleasant Krogstad who has latent redemptive qualities. And Mr. Morfogen delivers a charming and complex Dr. Rank whose pending death creates opportunities for endearing honesty.
“Nora” is “A Doll’s House” on steroids with fast-paced action provided by the ensemble cast that rarely leaves the stage each (except Nora) retreating into the shadows in Harry Feiner’s brooding light and each reappearing when engaged with the other actors. Harry Feiner’s set design and Theresa Squire’s costume design further complement Bergman’s taut and tantalizing script with authenticity and grace.
“Nora” is a definite must see for those endeared to the classic and for all of those looking for rich theatre that asks enduring questions about gender, self-discovery, and empowerment.