“Nora” at Antaeus – reviewed

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, perhaps the road to freedom is paved with righteous anger? Henrik Ibsen may have thought so when he wrote his proto-feminist play, A Doll’s House, in 1879. That piece went on to become a foundational part of the western theater canon, produced constantly during the past 145 years. In 1989, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman did an adaptation of the work that he titled Nora, which eliminated some supporting characters and shortened the play. The current production of Nora by Antaeus Theatre Company benefits from a talented ensemble of actors and demonstrates how Ibsen’s themes haven’t lost their relevance.

In 1879 Norway, Nora (Jocelyn Towne) seems happy with her life. Her husband, Torvald (Brian Tichnell), has been given a big promotion to become the bank manager, and their economic situation is looking very positive. Her old friend Mrs. Linde (Mildred Marie Langford) has come back into her life, and through Torvald, Nora is able to supply her with a job. Bank employee Krogstad (Michael Kirby) is losing his job due to this, and unfortunately he has blackmail material on Nora and threatens to use it if she doesn’t get him reinstated. Nora is in a no-win situation between Torvald and Krogstad, in which whatever path she chooses may ruin her life, unless of course she discovers a third way.

Peter James Smith, Jocelyn Towne, Brian Tichnell. Photo by Jenny Graham. 

Towne does an excellent job at conveying Nora’s manic cheerfulness and how it congeals into panic as the men in her life tighten the bars of her cage. She also nails the iconic final scene, which she delivers with honesty and serious intent. Tichnell is terrific as the controlling Torvald, who loves his wife as long as he can patronize or bully her, in a funny and frightening performance. Kirby is both threatening and somewhat sympathetic as Krogstad, and Langford is very effective as the poor widow Linde. Peter James Smith doesn’t quite convince as the smitten Dr. Rank, a role which possibly suffers from Bergman condensing the script.

Director Cameron Watson gets strong work from his performers but makes a couple of choices that don’t entirely succeed. A repeated bit in between scenes having the lights turn on and off in different sections of the set is somewhat odd, and the treatment of the final door scene, with said entrance appearing as though by magic and bright light pouring out from it as if it were the portal to Heaven, seems an over-the-top moment in an otherwise realistic play. Bergman’s adaptation does make the show shorter, but I’m not convinced it improves upon Ibsen’s original work. Something about Nora’s emotional transition seems curtailed, and her decision in the final scene feels more abrupt in this version and less organic.

Michael Kirby and Mildred Marie Langford. Photo by Jenny Graham.

This is a good production of Nora, filled with worthwhile performances. If one is looking for a better response to Ibsen’s play, however, one should seek out Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2.  

Nora is presented by and at Antaeus Theatre Company and plays through May 26, 2024.

Tickets are available online here.

Jocelyn Towne and Brian Tichnell. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Terry Morgan


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