By Tulis McCall
It is difficult to imagine how the combination of Henrik Ibsen and Ingmar Bergman could fail to hit the mark, but in Nora now at the Cherry Lane Theatre, it misses by a long shot.
In this retelling of the classic Doll’s House we meet Nora (Jean Lighty) and her husband Torvald Helmer (Todd Gearhart). It is Christmas time and the new year will bring a promotion for Helmer at the bank. He cautions his wife against spending against anticipated funds that are months away. When she casually mentions that they could borrow money he refuses. No loans. No how.
This is not so good because it turns out that Nora has been hiding the fact that she herself borrowed money by forging her father’s signature so that she and her family could go to Italy when Torvald was ill. She has been paying off the loan that she took out with Nils Krogstad (Larry Bull) who works at the bank with Torvald. Out of the blue pops an old friend Christine Linde (Andrea Cirie) who is a widow without means and looking for work. Nora imposes on Torvald who ultimately ends up hiring Linde to replace Krogstad.
Faced with dismissal Krogstad tells Nora that he will expose her if the plan goes through. Kristine intercedes on Nora’s behalf, because she and Krogstad are old lovers. She offers him a reuniting if he will leave Nora alone. Together, however, they conclude that only the truth will help Nora and Torvald.
Torvald receives the letter and denounces his little doll Nora in no uncertain terms. When a new letter arrives from Krogstad that contains the bond and a forgiveness of the debt, Torvald just as quickly sweeps the entire matter under the rug. Nora, having seen her husband’s true colors, realizes that in the eight years they have been married they have never had a serious discussion about serious matters. This is no longer how she wants to live and announces that she is leaving to go into the world and that the only solution for them is that they both could change enough to have a real marriage. The end.
This story – Ibsen insisted it was not about strictly female freedoms but freedom for all person – is cumbersome but still filled with heady stuff. The birth of a person to seek her own identity is no casual fare. But this story is laborious enough to need a delicate hand at the helm to make it believable.
Sad to say but Ms. Lichty does not succeed as the captain of this ship. Her performance is without substance and she almost appears to have something else on her mind. Or perhaps she was not feeling well. Difficult to say. She stumbles through this piece like a free floating iceberg. As Torvald, Todd Gearhart does not fare much better. His performance lacks nuance or tenderness. We don’t believe this relationship for a nano-second. The supporting cast, all onstage for most of the production in a clever bit of staging that works very well, fare much better. Indeed the story comes alive when Cirie and Bull are taking the spotlight. These are two characters with skin in the game – even if the game is being played with an under inflated ball.
Pendleton’s’ direction, normally spot on, seems to flag here, which is disappointing. It may be that there was little he could do to prop up Ms. Lichty and Mr. Gearhart. But there is such a general pall cast over this production one assumes that a good deal of the responsibility rests the Mr. Pendleton. No one ever knows what goes on in a rehearsal process. The give and take of writer, actor and director is delicate and often uncertain. A thousand variables must come together for a successful production.
There is no doubt that this production was well intended. That it slid off the rails, however, is also not in question. That’s showbiz. Next case.
NORA by Ingmar Bergman, Directed by Austin Pendleton
WITH Larry Bull, Andrea Cirie, Todd Gearhart, Jean Lichty, George Morfogen
Sets and Lights by Harry Feiner, Costumes by Theresa Squire, Sound by Ryan Rumery
Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi, FOunding Artistic Directo and La Femme Theatre Productions.
General admission tickets to NORA are $46; reserved premium tickets are $66. Seats can be purchased online at cherrylanetheatre.org, by phone at 866 811 4111 or in person at the Cherry Lane Theatre box office at 38 Commerce St. The production will perform through December 12: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7 pm; Saturdays at 2 and 7 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. There will be an added performance on November 25 at 2; there will be NO performances on November 26 or December 7.