Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Doll’s House (Hudson Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

A production of Henrik Ibsen’s classic devoid of scenery, period costumes, and props hardly seems a prospect to set the heart racing. And yet, for all of that, director Jamie Lloyd’s production rates as one of the most gripping I’ve seen. 

This is a highly colloquial version by Amy Herzog (perhaps too colloquial at times as when Nora drops an f-bomb). It's performed on a dimly lit stage with voices cannily amplified by sound designers Ben and Max Ringham to a foreboding score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, all to highly compelling effect. In Lloyd's mesmerizing staging rather like a radio play, you are thus guided to listen to Ibsen’s ever-suspenseful story even more intently. 

Jessica Chastain’s Nora Helmer, seated through most of the intermission-less evening, is a triumph. She surpasses her first Broadway outing in “The Heiress.” Not entirely likable in this interpretation, at least at the start, Nora registers as boastful, vain, self-centered, materialistic, and callous. All these traits are suggested in the original text, but are boldly heightened here. Still, as the play progresses, and Nora’s secret crime (forging a signature for a loan to restore her ailing husband to health) threatens to be exposed, she earns our sympathy and the final break from her husband Torvald (staged in a rather thrilling coup de theatre which is completely apt) is powerful as ever.

Arian Moayed is as patronizing and sexist a Torvald as we’ve seen, coolly superior to Nora until he explodes volcanically after learning of Nora’s actions. As Krogstad, the money lender who threatens to expose Nora if she doesn’t prevail upon her husband to save his position at Torvald’s bank, Okieriete Onaodowan is quietly powerful, and plays the role in a far more sympathetic manner than I’ve seen before. His scenes with Nora are strikingly staged with the two of them sitting back to back, as she tries to resist his entreaties. Again, their voices propel the scene. As Krogstad’s old flame, and Nora’s friend, the widowed, impoverished Kristine, Jesmille Darbouze projects quiet strength and resolve.  

Michael Patrick Thornton, last seen here in the misguided Sam Gold “Macbeth,” makes an outstanding Dr. Rank, and his crucial scene with Nora -- rife with sexual undercurrent -- is beautifully played. And Tasha Lawrence rounds out the superlative crew as nanny Anne-Marie. (In this stripped down version, we don’t see the three Helmer children, nor the maid Helene.)

My only quibble with the production was Jon Clark’s low-lighting level which, though effective for the aforementioned reason, needed just a couple of notches more illumination. 

No one would want this interpretation to be the template for all future productions of the play. And I have comparably fond memories of fully staged mountings including Janet McTeer’s 1997 Broadway turn, and a fabulous 1982 RSC Adrian Noble production in London with Cheryl Campbell and Stephen Moore, to name just two.

This is, needless to say, a great play, and, in the right hands, rarely fails to make an impact. On this occasion, Herzog and Lloyd have done the play especially proud, presenting it with renewed relevance and immediacy.

(Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street;; through June 10)

Photo Courtesy of A Doll’s House:

(I.-r.) Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain

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