April 29, 2006

Nora

I confess that after two mainstage comedies (Noises off and As you like it), I was a little scared of what sort of depressing tragedy the theatre department would come up with to balance them. As it happens, my fears were unfounded (well, maybe they were founded, but they weren't realised), and the spring mainstage was not tragic and only slightly depressing.

I knew going in that it was Neil Blackadder directing it, but I think I could've guessed anyway; the the scene changes, the sets, the whole feel of the show bore a marked resemblance to last year's Round Dance. It even involved an actor smoking an actual cigar, although this one was a much more well-behaved cigar, not filling the performance space at all. This despite the space being considerably smaller—in a novel turn, he staged the show in the round, on the Harbach stage, with risers with chairs on them. It thus had the feel of a studio production (and could easily have been staged there instead, aside from the fact that it was officially this term's mainstage show).

The show got off to a bit of a rough start. The acting was far from wooden, but still seemed a bit... disconnected, as if the actors were delivering their lines with just the right intonation and feeling, but in a vacuum rather than actually in response to the line before. There was also a lot of unmotivated walking around the stage, presumably to make the in-the-round work, but it was a little distracting nonetheless.

Happily, both of these problems seemed to diminish as the play went on. By the end of the first scene, the actors had found their flow, and we could settle in for Nora Helmer's flightiness and Torvald Helmer's sobriety; for Nils Krogstad's creepiness and Kristine Linde's sensibleness. Dr. Rank's depression I never quite felt; he was dressed like a dandy and always seemed much too cheerful to match up well with the deep depression the other characters kept seeing in him.

I wonder why we haven't seen Anjalika Kapur before in a lead; I know I've seen her in smaller roles before, and my program tells me she's a senior. Perhaps it was just a wait for the right role for her, which this seemed to be; her Kristine Linde had just the right air of sophistication, a worldly sensibility without a hint of arrogance. Marty Helms (Krogstad) is another person we haven't really seen in leading parts before. He certainly did fine here, although I thought he didn't act creepy enough. (On the other hand, if he'd been too creepy, we would have found the match with Mrs. Linde to be too unbelievable.)

Nick Perry's Torvald seemed sort of distant, which I guess is about right, but I still wasn't satisfied with the performance somehow. I did think that he had a really good angry voice in the second-to-last scene, and the character seemed reasonable in the earlier scenes. The distress he showed in the last scene was less good, but mostly I think he was unconvincing as a thirty-year-old banker.

The TKS review said that this play was about "Victorian feminism" and went on to riff on this topic for a few paragraphs. As the play went on, I really was just forced to disagree; Nora, as competently played by Saras Gil, was flighty and then stressed and moody (Saras actually looked like she'd been beaten up in the scene after the party), but was not portraying any sort of strong feminine. The character did display some initiative, but was fundamentally dependent.

But that last scene was amazing. Her character arc through the play does not end with "stressed and moody", but progresses right on into "willful" and "independent" and "not gonna take it anymore". Saras is certainly making a creditable stab at the best-actor award here; there is a lot of character development in this show, and particularly in that last scene she conveys a great deal of conflicting emotion. Her realisation that "No... I don't" love Torvald anymore is sudden, and we are perfectly convinced that she had to evaluate the question on the spot and was surprised and anguished by the answer. Knowing how it ends and what a dick he's going to be later on*, her ability in the early scenes to be so flighty and light-hearted is even better in retrospect.

By and large, I loved the costumes in the show. I can't say whether they were perfectly period or not, but to the untrained eye they were convincing. They fit well and, aside from a certain plastic bra strap that was glinting through a sheer blouse in one scene, worked perfectly to set the scene and tell part of the story by themselves. When Mrs. Linde walks in and takes her cloak off, you notice immediately that she's dressed in mourning. When Nora takes the stage in the last scene, her costume says everything; you sit up and exclaim to yourself, "those are travelling clothes!"

Which is why it was so odd that they fumbled on the last costume for Torvald. He's to be in bed, and so he takes the stage (before the scene starts) wearing only his boxers, and gets in bed. Setting aside the apparent mandate from somewhere that every show here needs to have a guy in his underwear, it made all his movements in that whole scene awkward and unnatural, because he needed to be concerned with keeping the covers arranged over him. He pulled on a shirt at one point for no clear reason, but still had to stay under the covers because there were no pants to put on. The real irony here is that (to my understanding), it would have been perfectly period for him to wear a nightshirt, which would then resolve all of the blocking difficulties as well.

Other tech work was good, too. There were some really nice lighting fades between the scenes. The makeup was way better than usual, without the crazy overdone face lines that tend to prevail in mainstage shows (though, come to think of it, I think As you like it was okay in this regard too). The props were generally fine, although the nylon pantyhose were a funny substitute for silk stockings, and technically, not that anyone else in the audience would ever notice this, Norwegian knitting is usually done in the round. :)

* Seriously. In the scene where he reads Krogstad's letter, I wrote down "What a dick." A few moments later I was compelled to add: "DICK DICK DICK." Yikes.

"Above all else, I am a human being, just as you are." --Ingmar Bergman, "Nora" (Nora Helmer)

Posted by blahedo at 3:35am on 29 Apr 2006
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