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Jamie Lloyd’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll House in Amy Herzog’s version induces nothing but superlatives. Comparisons are no doubt odorous even odious but I will sink to that level by stating that the last time a production made so powerful an impression on me was Peter Brooks’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream many decades ago.

Lloyd and Herzog have stripped the play to its essential. The stage is empty except for four chairs on a revolving platform with four people sitting in them and one character sitting in a wheelchair. They are all wearing black and some of the necessary acts are simply mimed. When Nora, the “doll” wife gives her ring to her husband Torvald and he returns his, a crucial moment in the breakdown of their marital relationship, there is no exchange of anything. It is all mimed.
Lloyd understates everything without robbing us or the play of its emotional power and intensity. The characters speak the most dramatic lines in what appears to be undramatic fashion when the dialogue is seething with dramatic meaning.
We all know about Nora Helmer, Torvald’s doll, who leaves her husband and children in an unbelievable state of rebellion and a blow for freedom in the nineteenth century. Lloyd’s production has that as well but he takes his time getting to it and does it in his way.

This Nora, played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain, is a happy, happy woman. Torvald (Arian Moayed) has just been promoted and there will be lots of money to spend. We quickly realize that this Nora is materialistic, vain, narcissistic and lacking in common sense. The situation will get worse when we find out that she obtained a large loan for a trip to Italy from a loan shark under dubious circumstances. She believes that she did it to save her husband’s life but we are not convinced. It gets worse: she forged her father’s signature to get the loan.
Krogstad (Okieriete Onaodowan), the loan shark has a dubious background and he wants to reform his reputation by continuing to work at the bank where Torvald is the manager. He threatens to reveal Nora’s fraud unless she convinces her husband not to dismiss him from the bank.

Nora’s friend Kristine (Jesmille Darbouze) is in financial difficulty, she had a relationship with Krogstad and she tries to help Nora. It is an impossible situation. Dr. Rank (Michael Patrick Thornton) is a close family friend, a somewhat mysterious person, facing his mortality and he may be willing to help Nora for a price that is only hinted at.
How does Lloyd do it? With no sets, there is minimal movement. Most of the characters are on stage all the time. When the loan shark appears, he sits on a chair with his back to Nora and we do not see him at all. He threatens her in the politest manner, reminiscent of threats to eviscerate someone with total politesse. I watched the play as if I had never seen it before and was completely captivated.

There is an emotional explosion and a declaration of freedom and independence but there is also an ambivalence between lack of a moral compass and some personal traits that make us wonder about Nora’s conduct and Torvald’s culpability.
I found the production to be theatre at its best and in Jamie Lloyd a director of genius that can make a familiar classic appear like a new work.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Amy Herzog continues until June 10, 2023, at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W 44th St. New York.

Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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