Nora is Ingmar Bergman’s rewrite of Ibsen’s A Dolls House, with an English translation by Frederick J Marker and Lise-Lone Marker. It opened Saturday at the Westport Country Playhouse. The play is directed by David Kennedy and stars Liv Rooth as Nora, Lucas Hall as Torvald, LeRoy McClain as Dr Rank, Stephanie Janssen as Christine (Mrs Linde) and Shawn Fagan as Nils Krogstad.
The act curtain is completely black with a single translucently back-illuminated window inserted stage right. While this grim curtain and Fitz Patton’s somewhat menacing music make you think you are going to see a bleak Bergman Swedish landscape, the curtain actually opens on a modern, if angular, living room, sparsely furnished with a couch, a coffee table and a Christmas tree surrounded with brightly-wrapped packages.
And what we are treated to is a shortened or edited version of Ibsen’s play. The dialog (in translation) is much the same as many available scripts: there is just less of it. While the original Ibsen is said to run nearly 3 hours in 3 acts, this version is said to run around 90 minutes in a single act, although it was closer to 100 minutes the night we saw it.
The actors all speak with standard American accents and the setting could be almost anywhere or any time except for the two or three mentions of kröner and Italy.
The story, in a nutshell is that Nora seems completely dominated by her husband Torvald, as if a doll in a doll’s house. Torvald has just gotten a new job as a bank manager and their financial worries will be at an end. At first Nora seems a spendthrift flibbertigibbet, but we soon learn that she saved Torvald’s life by finding the money to take him to Italy for a long rest when he collapsed from overwork. But it turns out that she got that money not from her father as she said, but from Krogstad and has been paying it back by skimming the money Torvald gives her for housekeeping.
In trimming the play, Bergman eliminated the roles for the Nurse, the porter, a housemaid and the three children. Of those, only the Nurse has anything significant to say. He also cut down the length of everyone’s speeches, notably Torvald and Krogstad’s . So to some extent, this is the Cliff’s Notes version of A Doll’s House, which although compellingly acted, seems somehow incomplete.
This version of the play belongs entirely to Nora, and Liv Rooth, who is almost never offstage, does a wonderful job showing you how she develops throughout the story. Shawn Fagan as Krogstad is appropriately sleazy, and LeRoy McClain is a compelling Dr Rank, but with fewer lines it is harder to establish just who he is. Stephanie Janssen does a fine job as Christine (Mrs Linde).
If Torvald is such a domineering person, we need to hear more of him. He just comes across as an affable boor in this trimmed version. And with the Nurse eliminated, Nora has no one to talk to about what it would be like to leave her children. And by cutting the children, the emotional connection is lost. It is also worth noting that in this trimmed version, we never find out why Nora’s father wouldn’t loan her the money, and even though Dr Rank is dying, Torvald never learns this.
The ending is somewhat reduced in power by setting it in their bedroom instead of making it part of the argument that proceeds it and ending the scene with gratuitous nudity was a bad idea that should have been cut.
Script criticisms aside, this is a powerful production that is worth your attention, especially if you have never seen A Doll’s House. Nora is performed Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3pm through August 2nd. Tickets are available by calling 203-227-4177 or at their website.