The version of A DOLL’S HOUSE currently at BAM positions the iconic play within the Ibsen canon as a whole, an act that is no mere literary exercise, but which draws upon the entire body of work to invigorate the drama at hand. I think that there is no other playwright who so approaches Shakespeare in this respect, whose works, while in good stead as freestanding dramas, so feed off each other and harness the power of an interrelated whole. Every Shakespeare play is better for all the others and so, in some parallel way, is every Ibsen. This Doll’s House, imported from the Young Vic in London, is overt in exposing its shared bloodlines with later Ibsens like Hedda Gabler, Ghosts and Lady from the Sea, through each of which course parallel themes, images, characters, and plotlines, of congenital disease, sadistic patriarchy, magical thinking, and the elusiveness of personal agency.
That the plays are inseparable from the canon ensures that the neat, well-made structure of which Ibsen was a perennial master offers no easy resolution of the realities he exposes or the spiritual crises he portrays; they shall reemerge in successive works. Ibsen is cozy on the surface, with his Nordic houses and quaint Scandinavian personae, but the hearts of the latter beat erratically, quickened by the fear of humiliation and the exposure of secrets. This hermetic world is not easily escaped, as the central figure of the play before us knows and senses, even before coming to a point of full awareness and necessary decision. Nora is an icon of prototypical feminism, put down by Torvald, her clueless spouse, and finding her only agency, at first, in deploying the resources of her father – to save her husband’s life – by means of a fraudulent signature, the threatened revelation of which brings her marriage to a head.
Hattie Morahan lends a magnetic if rather eccentric sensibility to the role: it is magnetic for being eccentric. There’s an oddball breathiness to her delivery and a slight goofiness to her physique, but my God how powerful is the effect that she produces. Carrie Crackwell’s direction, and Simon Stephens’ adaptation, pushes Ibsen’s play, clearly but unobstrusively, in the direction of a contemporary critique. So do Dominic Rowan as Torvald and Steve Toussaint as the family friend Dr. Rank, injecting their characters with a mean streak that alters my previous impression of them as traditional, but decent enough, men. There is nothing creaky or archaic in this Doll’s House; its accoutrements are those of a period drama, at least vaguely, but are we not living in a country awash in Torvalds, only worse, of fathers who know best, inflicting upon the rest of us their own threatened sense of masculine superiority and male anxiety? I have a hard time imagining a more pertinently riveting telling of Nora’s story, or of our own.
For information on performances at BAM, click here.