Friday, May 29, 2015

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

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

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

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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