Review by Judith Robinson
The Shaw Festival’s production of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea is sheer perfection. The backstage elements, the direction, and the acting combine to create an otherworldly, enchanting experience. This is not typical Ibsen. Although there is the usual strong female protagonist who struggles against the conventions of middle class morality, as in The Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, this play goes deeper. The added mythological dimensions, the heightened poetic language, and the ever present pulse of nature overpower the domestic storyline. Photo courtesy of Shaw’s David Cooper
In order for the play to work, Moya O’Connell, as Ellida Wangel, must convince the audience she’s a mythological creature with a primordial connection to the sea. The tidal pull- the tempestuous currents lurking beneath the surface, toss her emotional equilibrium forward and back, up and down until her face is planted on the sea floor. O’Connell manages this Herculean feat effortlessly throughout the play. Her poetic, lyrical utterances are incomprehensible to her physician husband, Dr. Wangel, played by Ric Reid. He attempts to drug and restrain her from rejoining her lost sailor love which drives her even farther over the edge. Reid plays a reasonable gentleman of the time – maddening, but entirely believable.
This play takes place outside. The wind and the waves are ever present. A massive outcrop of rock dominates the stage – leaning precipitously to the left. Set designer, Camellia Koo, has taken minimalism to the extreme. Ibsen would have been delighted. The harsh, bold, sharp lines of the text are brought to life in the straight backed chairs, improperly balanced bolder and few, fleeting glimpses of flowers.
Lighting designer, Kevin Lamotte, accentuates the power of the outcrop by changing its colour, at times to bold pastels, emphasizing the emotional waves of O’Connell. As he changes the kaleidoscope of tints, the sky backdrop—unencumbered —sets the mood. This drama plays with the guts. The audience aches for O’Connell to run away from her unsympathetic husband. But unlike Nora and Hedda, this bird doesn’t flee. The enchantment lifts. And although O’Connell will never be an ordinary average woman, she finds a way to incorporate her wildness into conventional life. The sea may be her home. But she has found a way to find the sea within herself. This play is magical.
The Lady from the Sea is playing at the Court House Theatre until September 13th.