Review by Judith Robinson
Why would a modern woman, from a prominent family, have an emotional fixation on a domineering Trump-style male? While this scenario might fascinate reality TV watchers, Frank McGuinness’ 1996 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House fails to effectively translate the genius of the classic drama. The original Nora Helmer, circa Ibsen’s 1879 Norway, was a strong woman who had little choice but to stay with her controlling mate because of the societal dictates of her day. But in McGuinness’ 1990’s UK, Soulpepper’s Katherine Gauthier’s ‘Nora’, would have had plenty of options. Photo courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann
Her reluctance to use them makes her appear emotionally unbalanced or at least excessively needy. Perhaps in an attempt to portray her neediness, Gauthier was often screaming, jumping up and down or clinging to other characters.
The best performances were those that were understated. Diego Matamoros pulled the audience’s heart strings as the dying Dr. Rank. He was charming, humorous, mischievous and entirely sympathetic. He delivered his lines in a carefree, casual tone, as if he was already speaking from beyond the grave, where he could see things from a more universal perspective. He was like one of Shakespeare’s wise fools – able to tolerate his ignorant companions with amusement and tolerance.
Oyin Oladejo brought a heart-warming compassion to the character of Kristine Linde, Nora’s childhood friend. It was she who seemed to fully understand, along with Dr. Rank, the full magnitude of human suffering and the need to make authentic emotional connections. She was the heroine of the play who sacrificed herself in order to right injustices and build friendships.
Michelle Fisk as Anne-Marie the nanny, brought a no nonsense freshness to the stage. She listened intently, argued for sanity and duty in an atmosphere of immaturity and self indulgence.
While there was a frenzy of miscommunication on stage, these three characters operated from their own moral compasses – refusing to be sucked into the web of co-dependency that dominated the Helmer household.
Ibsen’s Nora always appeared to be fundamentally sane – struggling to maintain her equilibrium in an insane environment. In this production, it’s not clear where the insanity has originated – some may be due to an alteration of Ibsen’s original text. But in spite of it all, the embers of Ibsen’s brilliance still shine through. A Doll’s House is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto until August 27th.