By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea is not nearly as famous nor as frequently performed as A Doll's House or Hedda Gabler.But it does take up the same enduring and fascinating questions: is marriage a viable social institution? Are women free to exercise their will within the bourgeois confines of being a wife? Is it possible for men and women to understand each other? But in Lady from the Sea, EgoPo's second installment in their Ibsen season, the master goes beyond these societal issues and deals with the depths of the psyche, exploring the profound pull of sexual "terror" that both repels and attracts.
The Lady in question is Ellida (Genevieve Perrier), second wife to Dr. Wangel (Ed Swidey). They live with his two daughters, Bolette (K.O. DelMarcelle) and Hilde (Lee Minora) in a stultifying landscape; Ellida, a lighthouse keeper's daughter, longs to live by the sea, as she always had before she married. An emblematic painting described in the first moments of the play shows a dying mermaid who cannot "acclimatize" to land.
There are a bunch of subplots involving an elderly teacher (Ross Beschler who is too young for the role) and a sickly sculptor (Kevin Chick). A mysterious central figure is called The Stranger, a seductive sailor who has haunted Ellida's life. We should initially doubt the reality of his existence—he should come and go like magic. But Robert Carlton's portrayal is all too stolid; he neither looks nor moves like a life-wrecking, irresistible man.
It's telling that the EgoPo's program does not acknowledge a translator; somebody has changed Ibsen's script and made nonsense of the conclusion by adding a scene which distorts two characters and shifts the focus from the lady from the sea to her young stepdaughter. If you're going to spend a season on an iconic playwright, show him some respect.
Directed by Brenda Geffers, Perrier, Swidey and Minora give natural, engaging performances; everybody else seems stuck in a stiff delivery, just as they seem stuck in costumes (Robin Shane) that are clearly not their own clothes. The set, designed by Dan Soule, makes lovely use of the big, airy space, and Matt Sharp's lighting adds meaning and charm to this engrossing production.
EgoPo Classic Theater at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St. Through March 2. Tickets $22-35. Information: 215-273-1414 or www.egopo.org