Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: A Doll's House

Says critic David Patrick Stearns of this truncated A Doll's House, "EgoPo made you reappreciate the full text in its absence. Too bad for those seeing the play for the first time. They might mistake it for 'Feminism for Dummies.' "

Review: A Doll's House

By David Patrick Stearns
INQUIRER CULTURE CRITIC

By the end of A Doll’s House on Friday at the Adrienne Theater, EgoPo Classic Theater had presented an exposé of modern theater techniques commonly used to dismantle great plays.

Surely the savvy artistic minds at EgoPo recognize the stature of A Doll’s House, know that Henrik Ibsen’s story of a 19th-century Scandinavian housewife facing blackmail and ruin in a rigid, retrogressive society not only holds up 130 years after its premiere but has much to say to any generation trapped by received ideas on how life should be lived.

Nonetheless, here the play was performed by a single actress in the role of Nora Helmer, who also supplied voices for other characters physically represented by dolls, from Barbie to Raggedy Ann to Darth Vader. The set was a modern rec room.

Cutting the play in half showed how much meaning and power is lost when a classic is reduced to bold-face plot points. Previously luminous characters became mere devices. The play’s psychological progression is lost — and with it one’s emotional involvement. Thus, EgoPo made you reappreciate the full text in its absence. Too bad for those seeing the play for the first time. They might mistake it for Feminism for Dummies.

The dangers of updating were also exposed, namely, when novelty fails to mask interpretive imprecision. Darth Vader, that evil fallen angel, stood in for the blackmailing Korgstad, who has few similarities: He’s not evil but has a shady past and is simply trying to hold on to his hard-won job. In hand-puppet passages, Nora’s husband, Torvald, is represented by a 1950s-ish martini glass, even though Torvald is a paragon of sobriety.

Most perversely, director Brenna Geffers illustrated what acting resources the play requires by having Nora played by Mackenzie Maula, 14, who was expected to hold the stage on her own for an hour. That’s like asking someone without a driver’s license to enter the Grand Prix de France.

Might her performance work on its own terms? Not when juxtaposed with two unseen male characters, heard in loudspeaker voices supplied by Ross Beschler and Robert T. DaPonte, whose performances reflected the benefits of experience. The production’s garage-theater charm also forced Maula to set up props herself, leaving dead spots.

The audience was subtly tipped off to this many-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right approach by the absent apostrophe in the title. Why not go all the way and retitle it more honestly Uh Dowellz Hows?

Contact cultural critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

Through Sept. 22 at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. $20-$25.215-413-1318 or fringearts.org.

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