Nora, the woman at the center of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House and a pivotal female character for modern drama, returns to Los Angeles by way of Ingmar Bergman’s stripped down adaptation, Nora. Dana Jackson’s staging at the Pacific Resident Theatre continues through February 24, after several extensions.
Nora was one of three adaptations Bergman wrote and directed in 1981. Performed back-to-back during a seven-hour marathon at Munich’s Residenztheater, “The Bergman Project” included Nora, Julie (based on August Strindberg’s 1888 Miss Julie), and Scenes from a Marriage (based on Bergman’s 1973 film of the same name).
Translators Lise-lone Marker and Frederick J. Marker interviewed the director for their 1983 Ingmar Bergman: A Project for the Theatre. They write that he saw the plays forming a dramatic triangle “in which women come to grips with the possibilities of sexual and social emancipation.” His adaptations stripped away theatrical convention to see what he called “the tension that arises when men and women come together,”. . . out of which “something positive can arise – but also something disastrous.”
Jackson and designers William Wilday (set) and Noah Ulin (lights) evoke the original windowless room which Bergman likened to a courtroom. As the play begins, Nora (Jeanette Driver) sits alone. The minimal set piecing includes a sofa, chair, Christmas tree, and two dolls and their toy bed. Her children and housekeeper, speaking roles in Ibsen’s original, are only mentioned in this adaptation. The four remaining characters wait, motionless in dim light, on chairs along the upstage walls.
It is Christmas Eve, and Torvald (Brad Greenquist) enters to reprimand Nora for her holiday spending. She reminds him that there will be plenty of money in two weeks, when becomes bank manager. He dismisses her attempts at money management before their disagreement dissolves into cuddling–clearly their physical relationship is the eight-year marriage’s salvation. Nora then slips out of his embrace for another of their rituals: jumping like a puppy for the Crown notes Torvald holds over her.
Three others will stop by this evening. First, Nora’s long-absent friend Christine Linde (Martha Hackett) arrives seeking a job at the bank. Then Dr. Rank (Bruce French), an aged bachelor in failing health wants to spend what he says will be his last holiday with the flirtatious Nora, the only person he truly loves.
Finally, the unwelcome arrival of bank employee Nils Krogstad (Scott Conte) sets the play on its tragic course. Though never proven, Krogstad was accused of forgery and Torvald plans to dismiss him because of it. His request is ignored, but as he leaves he insists that Nora can change Torvald’s mind. If she fails, Krogstad will tell Torvald about money she secretly borrowed from him.
Terrified of being exposed, she nevertheless is certain Torvald will defend her action, which meant forging a document to secure it. After all she only took on the debt to pay for the vacation doctors insisted would restore his health. But she fails to sway her husband and her secret is exposed.
To her amazement, Torvald renounces her, withdraws all affection and forbids her to raise the children. Greater concern for his reputation is inconceivable to her. Bergman added that they retire to bed–naked in the emptiness of the physical.
Driver’s Nora is flighty at first. Not a woman who is aware of her role and her husband’s true priorities. Her reaction to his dismissing her is devastating. As if a trapdoor opened beneath her, sending her plummeting into the void, she crumbles, slack-jawed with incomprehension. It is a fine moment for the actress.
The Markers also wrote Ingmar Bergman: A Life in the Theater, in which they report that “Most critics saw in Bergman’s production a Nora who, right from the outset of the play, was in possession of the insight that eventually prompts her to leave.”
Credit Jackson and Driver for offering a Nora who appears flighty at first. Not a woman who is aware of her role and her husband’s true priorities. Her reaction to his dismissing her is devastating. As if a trapdoor opened beneath her, sending her plummeting into the void, she crumbles, slack-jawed with incomprehension. It is a fine moment for the actress, and she carries it through to the moment Nora exits the Helmer house and female characters turned a corner–permanently.
Greenquist creates the kind of properly stiff Torvald who can say Nora is “worth looking at,” and think it’s high praise. Hackett’s Linde is especially affecting. She is a woman worn down by years of bad luck, and yet something drives her mutely onward. French’s diminished doctor is quietly hearbreaking.
Daniella Cartun designed the period costumes, Keith Stevenson and Elizabeth “Tiggy” McKenzie collaborated on the music, as well as sound design and choreography, respectively. Rick Garrison is stage manager.
PRODUCTION William Wilday, set; Daniella Cartun, costumes; Noah Ulin, lights; Keith Stevenson, sound; Elizabeth “Tiggy” McKenzie, choreography; Rick Garrison, stage management
HISTORY Bergman first produced his adaptation of A Doll’s House as part of Nora und Julie at Germany’s Residenztheater in April 1981. It was a simultaneous staging of Ibsen’s play, Strindberg’s Miss Julie and an adaptation of his own Scenes from a Marriage. First produced in the United States at Pittsburgh Public Theater, February 1984.