×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dollhouse

Commissioned by the Hartford Stage Co. to adapt Ibsen's "A Doll House" and "reset the action from Norway in 1879 to a modern, affluent suburb of Manhattan," playwright Theresa Rebeck has dutifully given her Nora all mod cons, including a fabulous, gleamingly contemporary post-Philip Johnson dream home, an African-American nanny, email, cell phones and cigarettes. Rebeck's Nora is now a sturdy, young Westchester-style matron -- not quite Ibsen's "little squirrel," the doll-like toy of a doting husband.

With:
Nora - Shelley Williams Evan - Frank Converse Juliana - Andi Jackson Ali Christine - Gretchen Lee Krich Damien Rank - Christopher McCann Neil Fitzpatrick - Glenn Fleshler Emma - Kaylee Dinello/ Lillian Rigling Bob - Christian Dinello/ Luke Murphy

Commissioned by the Hartford Stage Co. to adapt Ibsen’s “A Doll House” and “reset the action from Norway in 1879 to a modern, affluent suburb of Manhattan,” playwright Theresa Rebeck has dutifully given her Nora all mod cons, including a fabulous, gleamingly contemporary post-Philip Johnson dream home, an African-American nanny, email, cell phones and cigarettes. Rebeck’s Nora is now a sturdy, young Westchester-style matron — not quite Ibsen’s “little squirrel,” the doll-like toy of a doting husband. The update is a misfire, reducing Ibsen’s forceful play about the status of wives in the Victorian era to a soap opera in which money, embezzlement and blackmail are more the focus than modern marriage.

Tracy Brigden’s direction lacks the skill and sophistication to cope successfully with the built-in difficulties of Rebeck’s play, a fact evidenced by the often odd and discordant performances she’s drawn from her cast. Each of the two acts begins with Nora (Shelley Williams) at center stage speaking directly to the audience. Her first words are “I am happy.”

Popular on Variety

And why not? She’s not lacking for creature comforts; her husband, Evan (Frank Converse), believes that he loves her; their best friend, dying Dr. Rank (Christopher McCann), does, too; and she has two sweet little children. The rot sets in with the arrival of a former friend, Neil (Glenn Fleshler), just out of prison for embezzlement. He threatens to blackmail Nora for the role she played in the scheme. With the money she gained, Nora made it possible for her husband, who had a serious heart attack three years earlier, to take a yearlong rest-cure in Italy. As in Ibsen, Nora’s eyes are eventually opened to her husband’s self-centeredness when he learns of her behavior and is appalled.

Unfortunately, Ibsen’s plot doesn’t ring true in this contemporary setting, not least because the role of Evan is still mired in its Victorian heavy-husband sensibility. Some of the dialogue’s contemporary Americanisms don’t help either — and provoke occasional bursts of laughter from the audience.

There are also too many loose ends in “DollHouse.” Nora’s husband is played older than usual, perhaps to help explain his heart attack. But if Evan was laid off prior to his heart attack three years earlier, and is clearly a man with health problems, why is he now heading up a bank with more than 300 branches? And if he was in such financial disarray three years ago, how did they come by their current splendor, manifested in Walt Spangler’s vast, sleek living-room set, with its wall-size picture window and lovely view?

Most problematic of all: As written by Rebeck and played by Williams, this Nora is so assured and well put together that surely she would have straightened out the relationship between herself and her husband early on in their eight years of marriage.

This is not, of course, the first time Ibsen’s plays have been tampered with. Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman rewrote “A Doll House” as “Breaking a Butterfly” for a London production as long ago as 1884. But as George Bernard Shaw averred, “the mutilation” of a play “has always been an offense.” This one is no exception.

Dollhouse

Hartford Stage, Hartford, Conn.; 489 seats; $55 top

Production: A Hartford Stage Co. presentation of a play in two acts by Theresa Rebeck based on Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll House." Directed by Tracy Brigden.

Creative: Set, Walt Spangler; costumes, Elizabeth Hope Clancy; lighting, Robert Perry; music and sound, John Gromada; choreographer, John Carrafa; production stage manager, Deborah Vandergrift; production manager, Jack O'Connor; vocal coach, Gillian Lane-Plescia. Artistic director, Michael Wilson. Opened, reviewed Feb. 28, 2001. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast: Nora - Shelley Williams Evan - Frank Converse Juliana - Andi Jackson Ali Christine - Gretchen Lee Krich Damien Rank - Christopher McCann Neil Fitzpatrick - Glenn Fleshler Emma - Kaylee Dinello/ Lillian Rigling Bob - Christian Dinello/ Luke Murphy

More Legit

  • Lucas Hnath

    Listen: Lucas Hnath's Own Play Gives Him Nightmares

    Tony-nominated playwright Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”) has two shows in New York this season: a monologue based on the real-life experiences of his mother, and a ghost story. One of them gave him nightmares — but it wasn’t the ghost story. Listen to this week’s podcast below: He explained why on the [...]

  • Greater Clements review

    'Greater Clements': Theater Review

    The American Dream and all of its values have taken quite a beating lately. Director and screenwriter Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Bruce Springsteen’s recent “Western Stars” album, even Ralph Lauren in the documentary “Very Ralph” show us how this country and all of its totems and merits have gone asunder. No dreams are more crushed, [...]

  • Harry Connick Jr Walk of Fame

    Harry Connick Jr. on Returning to Broadway

    Harry Connick Jr. is headed back to Broadway with a three-week limited engagement celebration of legendary songwriter Cole Porter. The actor and musician came up with the concept for the show and is also directing. “I love Broadway and if I had two careers one of them would be only Broadway just because I love [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

  • Claire Warden

    Listen: Let's Talk About Sex Onstage

    The craft of intimacy direction is taking Broadway by storm — and on the latest episode of Variety’s Stagecraft, Broadway’s first intimacy director explains why, and breaks down the ways in which she’s helping to revolutionize how actors get intimate onstage. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Warden, whose credits this season include “Jagged Little [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content