Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Doll's House at TLT

Small World 
by Michael Dresdner 

L to R: Annie Katica Green, Sean Neely    All photos by Dennis K Photography
Last night the celebrated 1879 Ibsen play A Doll’s House opened to a most appreciative crowd at Tacoma Little Theatre. They had good reason to feel that way. Director Marilyn Bennet assembled an outstanding ensemble to create a well-paced, superbly acted play, frequently substituting more streamlined and accessible language without losing any of the impact of the original. Well done all.

Much analyzed and dissected over the years, Ibsen’s play was scandalously radical in its day for promoting the idea that women were more than simply working accessories for a male-oriented society. What’s different today? Depending on your vantage point, either “there’s no comparison” or “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)  
L to R: Patrick Gow, Nigel Kelley, Jillian Littrell, Annie Katica Green
Nora (Annie Katica Green) is the naïve, insular wife of prim, upright banker Thorvald Helmer (Sean Neely). With the help of her own former nanny Anne Marie (Robin McGee) and a housemaid named Helene (Marleyne Hernandez), she dutifully cares for the house and her three young children, Ivar ( Patrick Gow), Bob (Nigel Kelley), and Emmy (Jillian Littrell.) Her loving but patronizing husband treats her like a child, continuing a tradition started by her father. She does her best to please him, as she did with her father, and outwardly, it looks like a happy arrangement all around. But for nine years, she’s been carrying an awful secret.

L to R: Annie Katica Green, Jason Sharpe 
To save his life when he was ill, she secretly borrowed money to take him to Italy to recover by forging her father’s signature on a loan from a lawyer turned bank clerk, Nils Krogstad (Jason Sharpe,) who is now her husband’s subordinate. He, too, was guilty of forgery, and both Thorvald and the family’s best friend, Dr. Rank (Mark Peterson) are therefore revolted by him. When Nora’s girlhood friend Christine Linde (Kristen Moriarty) shows up to ask that she convince Thorvald to hire her just as he decides to fire Nils, he offers her the disgraced man’s job. What none but those two know, Christine and Nils have a painful but unresolved past together. The actions of those two, separately, ultimately triggers both the meltdown of this happily clueless home and a resolution of the core threat. This results in a life-changing epiphany for Nora and a rude awakening for Thorvald.

L to R: Kristen Moriarty, Annie Katica Green, Mark Peterson 
The women, Nora, Christine, and Anne Marie, have all made massive personal sacrifices in their lives for the sake of others, including parents, siblings, and spouses, and have all paid dearly for it in one way or another. Yet all are relatively stoical about it, deftly keeping the beneficiaries in blissful ignorance. Such were (are?) the demands of society.

L to R: Robin McGee, Annie Katica Green 
As I said, the entire cast was exceptional, right down to the three children who, along with the nanny, maid, and Christine, brought surprising realism to what might have been mundane roles. Green (Nora) did much of the heavy lifting, almost never leaving the stage and handling a massive line load and a physically demanding range of emotions and actions most skillfully. Sharp (Nils) neatly balanced his character’s desperate scheming with the broken spirit of a jilted lover, while Peterson (Dr. Rank) provided a constant anchor as the stalwart friend who unselfishly conceals both his terminal illness and his unrequited love for Nora. As for Neely (Thorvald), it’s the final scene where he truly shines, unleashing a perfectly nuanced and deftly executed portrayal of a man dutifully trying to remain in control while experiencing a shattering emotional upheaval.

As usual, the technical support was flawless, from the beautiful period set by designer Blake York and scenic artist Jen York, through wonderful period costumes by Michele Graves, lighting by Niclas Olson, sound by Dylan Twiner, and props, hair, and make-up by Jeffery Weaver. These outstanding people make up the resident technical team that consistently shines in TLT productions. Also listed, and certainly due theirs, is an assistant director and dramaturg, Lydia K. Valentine, stage manager Dana Galagan and her ASM Alyshia Collins, and Chevi Chung as fight choreographer.

So, can a circa 1879 play that’s been analyzed to a fare-thee-well still have relevance today?
How, exactly?
You really want to know? Eschew all the analysis and explanations. Just go see it.

Lagniappe: The play was based on the real life story of Ibsen’s friend Laura Kieler. Needing money to help find a cure for her husband’s tuberculosis, she asked Ibsen to recommend her to his publisher, thinking that would give her an avenue for needed income. He refused to help, after which she forged a check for the money. When it was discovered, her husband divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Astonishingly, she returned to him and her children two years later, at his urging. You may make of that what you will.

A Doll’s House
Jan 25 to Feb 10, 2019
Tacoma Little Theatre

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