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A Doll's House
By Henrik Ibsen
BAM Harvey Theatre
651 Fulton St., Brooklyn
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Itís a real challenge to make a new production of A Dollís House exciting in 2014. Numerous strong productions have run in New York in recent memory, including news-grabbing events such as a German version at BAM that had Nora shoot Torvald before leaving him, a Mabou Mines version that cast the male roles with 4-foot-tall actors, and a Comden-and-Green Broadway musical sequel called A Dollís Life. Most regular theatergoers have read or seen the play at least once, so plot surprise is out of the question. Then thereís the problem of creakiness in the feminism: to stress Noraís shelteredness as an infantilized housewife, as most productions do, is to risk making sophisticated modern urbanites dismiss her as a Victorian irrelevance.

The Young Vic production now running at BAM, directed by Carrie Cracknell, has met this challenge amazingly well, largely because of the actress Hattie Morahanís wonderfully perceptive and astonishingly nuanced performance as Nora. Morahanís crucial discovery was that Ibsenís protagonist isnít actually naÔve, as she claims and as her husband and many spectators presume. Amped up with impish restlessness and girlish friskiness, this Nora is a vain, annoyingly peppy, self-consciously beautiful, virtuosic flirt in the mold of Jackie Kennedyóall of which puts her putative ignorance about business and the larger social world in a fascinatingly self-satisfied light. Morahanís Nora manipulates men not just because an oppressive patriarchy leaves her no other choice but also because sheís good at it, and likes it. How much more interesting that is than the innocent-victim portrayals we are used to. One listens especially closely to the climactic husband-wife showdown here because this wife doesnít duck responsibility. Sure, she judges Torvald for his abominable behavior but she judges her own behavior just as severely and now wants to change it.

Set on a dynamic revolving stage designed by Ian MacNeil that keeps everyone off balance and Nora constantly moving from room to roomóno one is ever comfortable in one placeóthis production is certainly the most memorable event at BAM this season. It is crisp, funny and harrowing in all the right ways and should be seen before it leaves town.

 

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