By Karen Isaacs
Long Wharf is ending its season with the second Connecticut production of A Doll’s House – Part 2 that’s been in done in the state within the last four months. Any similarity to the earlier production at TheaterWorks is accidental and unintentional. It runs through Sunday, May 26.
The play by Lucas Hnath supposedly is 15 years after Ibsen’s famous play A Doll’s House has ended. He attempts to tell us what happened in those intervening years and why Nora returns. But Hnath might have been better served by creating a play that didn’t attempt to draw on the original work. There way too many inconsistencies (and errors) for it to be viewed as a successful sequel.
But that would have forced Hnath to create characters that are wholly his own. He seems to prefer to create what he has called “an alternative reality” in this and his most recent Broadway play –Hillary and Clinton. Guess who that is about? He is like those pop novelists who wrote novels about pop singers with mob connections or child movie stars turned icons with all sorts of drug and alcohol problems. Readers assumed the characters were thinly disguised portraits of Sinatra or Garland and brought to the novel all that they knew about these people and their lives. It makes the author’s work easier.
As a vice presidential candidate once said in a famous debate, when the Democratic candidate Senator Lloyd Benson said of Dan Quayle the Republican nominee, “I knew Jack Kennedy…you’re no Jack Kennedy.” I am very familiar with A Doll’s House and since the first time I saw the play (on Broadway), I have felt it is a pale travesty of the original brilliant work.
Director Will Davis has taken an unusual approach to the play, changing the setting and the tone. Suddenly this is a comedy. Some humorous lines are in the play, but to play this as a comedy – and a very physical comedy as well – is misguided. At times the actors move as though they are in the midst of a tornado or pursued by a herd of will animals.
The setting has somehow evolved from a drawing room in Norway to what could be an atrium, a fenced yard or whatever complete with plants and vines hanging from the arbor and the sounds of wild life and even a cuckoo clock. It totally loses the idea of being “trapped” which was one of Ibsen’s points and remains a part of Hnath’s work as well.
Did Davis want to impose a point of view on the play? Sometimes director do this with little regard for the point of view of the author. I use “impose” deliberately because I am one that believes a director should be very careful in substituting a directorial point of view over the author’s. It should help the audience understand the play and author’s ideas and illuminate them.
A major problem with Davis’ approach is that it distracts the audience from what the play is talking about; which is the ways society not only hampers women but judges them more harshly. Instead you spend time trying to figure how this vision ties in to the work itself. It, therefore, doesn’t serve the work.
While the set is inappropriate, it is well designed by Arnulfo Maldonado. The costume designs by Dana Botez, again seem to make little sense. Anne Marie (the nursemaid for Nora as a child and later Nora’s children) is so well dressed as to seem extremely well to do. Jorge Cordova as Torvald always appears to be in a dressing gown with something wrapped around his md-section. I spent part of the 95 minutes wondering if he had hurt his back or if it was a corset.
Sound designer Jane Shaw created the surreal sounds of birds, a clock, weather conditions, etc. They are realistic and meaningless.
So let’s turn to the actors. I found it difficult not to have sympathy for them, but perhaps they bought into Davis’ vision. It doesn’t help that Davis has directed the cast to spend little time actually interacting with each other and much more looking out on and talking to the audience. This is a surprisingly talky play for one that relatively short. But the four actors do their best. Maggie Bofill was good though at times I had difficulty understanding her articulation even though I knew the play. Cordova as Torvald appears remote from the play itself while Mia Katignbak as Anne Marie has difficult striking a consistent characterization. (Hnath doesn’t help the actress but others have found it). As Nora’s daughter, Sasha Diamond at least has the look and sound of a teenager, albeit a Valley girl. But that approach makes the maturity of the lines incongruous with the superficiality of the characterization.
Seldom do I find so little to praise in a production. While I don’t care for A Doll’s House – Part 2, I also hoped for a production that will give me new insights or cause me to rethink my position. Unfortunately this production doesn’t.
For tickets visit Long Wharf Theatre or call 203-787-4282.
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