Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

Jean Lichty at the early feminist NORA, and Todd Gearhart as her husband, Torvald in Bergman's NORA after Ibsen's A Doll's House

Review | Nora | by Ingmar Bergman | After Ibsen’s A Doll’s House | Directed by Austin Pendleton

… a doll’s household … 

Jean Lichty at the early feminist NORA, and Todd Gearhart as her husband, Torvald in Bergman's NORA after Ibsen's A Doll's House

Todd Gearhart as Torvald and Jean Lichty as Nora. Photo Carol Rosegg

In the name of “crystallization,” Bergman’s paring down of Ibsen’s compelling play with its early feminist theme sticks to the plot but gives us fewer ways to know the characters.  It puts major, inner change on fast forward — making for an unconvincing drama.

In trimming down the play, Bergman omits the servants and the three children.  We’re told once that the children are with the nanny but never see Nora with her children, so when, in leaving Thorwald, she abandons her children, any conflict she may have is totally distant.  And how do these people eat?  She doesn’t cook or clean, a small mending job seems beyond her, and no servants appear either:  there’s no sense of a functioning household, although the nature of this doll’s house – and doll’s household — is of central importance.

In eliminating the nanny, Anne-Marie, Bergman has omitted a character with thematic importance in Ibsen’s play.  Anne-Marie had cared for Nora as a child and now tends Nora’s children and, for this employment, had given up her own, illegitimate  daughter to the care of others. Ann-Marie’s story is important enough for Nora to call it a “tragedy.”

Anne-Marie’s story is a thought provoking counterpoint to Nora’s. own story  As a woman of the lower class, under duress of poverty and the stigma of an illegitimate child, Anne-Marie gave up her daughter in order to take on the position of caring for children better placed in society.  Nora gives hers up in order to fulfill her thrust toward freedom and self actualization.  Is one kind of duress more powerful than the other?  More worthy?  More easy to accept?

In another inflection of the theme of motherhood, Nora’s childless friend Christine joins the widowed Nils Krogstad so that his children will have a mother and she will have a purpose in caring for others:  elimination of the character of Anne-Marie severs one leg from this tripod of meanings.

Torvald looses much of his sexist pomposity in Bergman’s version, making him less obnoxious, and more attractive, and more like a man who could pay attention.  Yes, he let Nora down but, as Christine knows, nobody’s perfect including her marginally criminal Krogstad.  But that has no effect on Nora.

Bergman sets the final confrontation between Torvald and Nora in the marital bedroom , a good idea but it’s here awkwardly staged.  Under the onslaught of Nora’s defiant speech – she’s dressed to leave, he’s nude in a super obvious  visualization of his new vulnerability —  this mature man  “covers up his nakedness” like a sinful Adam, wrapping himself in a blanket.  And since he seems like a man who could perhaps learn, Nora’s adamant decision harder than ever to accept.

The upshot is, he looks like a jerk and she seems cuckoo.

Events unfold so fast  in this trimmed version that Nora’s lengthy speech to Torvald at the end, in which she explains that how she must free herself in order to come to know herself, seems ideological — she sounds like she just completed a course on feminism —  rather than being an emanation of her developing character.

Nora, Torvald, Christine and Krogstad are almost always on stage, moving back and to the fore as their scenes are foreground, giving a good sense of the tight link between past and present.  Jean Lichty brings out the flighty responsiveness and also the womanly strength of Nora – she reminded me of Jennifer Jones as Madame Bovary.  Todd Gearhart manages to convey Torvald’s sense of male entitlement with humor and wit.

Jean Lichty as the early feminist Nora and George Morfogen as Dr. Rank, whose in love with her.

Jean Lichty as Nora and George Morfogen as Dr. Rank. Photo Carol Rosegg

Larry Bull is appropriately menacing as Nils Krogstad, who turns gently tender when he recognizes another possibility with Christine Linde, played by Andrea Cirie.  The role of the mortally ill Dr. Rank is shortened in Bergman’s version but George Morfogen provides so rich and touching and totally believable a characterization of the smitten but dignified old man he fascinates and looms large.  I’ve seen him in many roles and never better.   Federick L. and Lise-Lone Marker’s translation  from Swedish finds the fine theatrical balance between generalized modern English and the special way people who know each other well, as all of these characters do, use language to express their connectedness.

NORA plays at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre in Manhattan’s East Village through December 12, 2015.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Group therapy: (right) Gil Ron as Dr. Jerry Rizzo (Center) and cast members of Raft of the Medusa, Barefoot Theatre Company at Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo: Michael Mallard

Review | Raft of the Medusa by Joe Pintauro | Premier of Revised Edition | Directed by Francisco Solorzano | Barefoot Theatre Company | Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

… cut adrift …

Raft of the Medusa is powerful, intensely human, and totally real — you are there.

Like Gericault’s epic shipwreck painting, The Raft of the Medusa of 1819 (see it below left), this play is based on a dire situation with many deaths and few survivors — only instead of shipwreck victims, these are victims of a mortal disease, brought together in 1988 not on a survival raft but — same thing — in a group therapy session for those infected with the AIDS virus.  Seeing the play you know this is what it was like:  beyond belief grim, and yet — in the way its draws out the best in people, there’s a gleam of light, a breath of hope, as in the painting.   It’s a rich, brilliant and beautifully written play, acted to perfection.

At the start of the play, the youthful Donald dies agonizingly in the arms of his lover, Michael, in a stunning, male pieta (compare the old man and young boy in the left foreground of the painting).  The scene moves to a realistic group therapy session — sparse office, metal chairs — with its big city racial and ethnic admixture, from affluent and successful to homeless and out-of-work, drawn together by a common denominator, AIDS.

Group therapy: (right) Gil Ron as Dr. Jerry Rizzo (Center) and cast members of Raft of the Medusa, Barefoot Theatre Company at Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo: Michael Mallard

Group therapy: (right) Gil Ron as Dr. Jerry Rizzo (Center) and cast members of Raft of the Medusa, Barefoot Theatre Company at Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo: Michael Mallard

A beautiful White gay model, Tommy, can’t get a job since he’s gotten so thin.  There’s Alan, an enraged Hispanic with Karposi’s Sarcoma dotting his face like marks of Cain.  Men and women, young and old, they got it all the ways you can.  Doug, a Black drug dealer who seems straight, got it shooting up in jail.  Some of them tell their stories — prompted or not by the psychiatrist, Jerry.  Cora, a slick looking professional woman, distances herself from the gay men but eventually blurts it all out.  Donald who has died his painful death mysteriously moves in and out — a Christ figure, which is why the point that he is Jewish is emphasized (he wanted to be a Rabbi, a teacher):  he hovers, in every way a Holy Ghost.

The group session lurches through quieter periods of “sharing” through to volatile bursts, fueled by the unbearable tension of near and certain death.

The action is heightened by the arrival of newcomers, a high school girl who got it from her boyfriend (his family has moved to California to avoid her suing them) and a well known tv and movie actor.  Their arrivals clarify underlying situations and catalyze the revelation of explosive truths about themselves and others. In the original event that the painting describes, there was cannibalism among those set adrift on the raft with almost no food and water — and, we discover, there’s cannibalistic exploitation in the group therapy room.

 Adrift at sea: (below) Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) The Raft of the Medusa, 1819, oil on canvas, Paris: Louvre Museum, H. 4.91 m., W. 7.16 m

Adrift at sea: (below) Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) The Raft of the Medusa, 1819, oil on canvas, Paris: Louvre Museum, H. 4.91 m., W. 7.16 m

The group dynamics are absolutely on target.  This is an author who understands human beings on the deepest level:  what a pleasure to be in his company.  The acting is uniformly excellent.  John Gazzale plays Donald’s death with no-holds barred passion.  Samantha Fontana shows sustained power as the smart, bitter Cora.  Andrew MacLarty, with an alluring blend of innocence and seductiveness, makes you love Tommy.  In an unforgettable performance, Gillian Rougier fairly dances through her role as Nairobi, a hearing and mentally impaired Black woman who has lost just about all and will now lose the rest.

There’s a lot of blame thrown around among these desperate human beings: Michael blames Donald for infecting him, Cora blames the guy who gave it to her.  The government comes in for blame for not doing more to find a solution to AIDS, as the government was blamed in the 19th Century for gross safety lapses at the time of the shipwreck of the Medusa.  The psychiatrist blames himself for encouraging sexual liberation, “freedom”, in the ‘70’s before implications were known; that’s why he’s a weak figure, asking, uncertainly, after a pause, helplessly when he hears a tale of desperation, “how does that make you feel?”  (Hey, man, how do you think that makes me feel!)

With all that blame, is there forgiveness?  That’s a biting question in this play, and to the credit of its great realism and tough mindedness, never answered.   But there is love, because what else is there?

Pintauro’s Raft of the Medusa is an outstanding theater experience.

Raft of the Medusa plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC’s Greenwich Village through October 22.

*See Wikipedia for the history of the event and the Louvre for information about the painting.

Ben Hollandsworth as Ryan and Reyna De Courcy as Elsie in Dreams of the Washer King.  Photo:  Eric Pearson

Review | Dreams of the Washer King by Christopher Wall | Directed by Giovanna Sardelli | The Playwrights Realm | Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

I can’t imagine a finer production for a developing young playwright than that given Dreams of the Washer King by The Playwrights Realm.  It’s in a small theater and the production’s not hugely expensive or high tech but the set is brilliantly evocative, the directing brings out all the play’s dramatic values and the acting — well, the acting is of the highest order, it simply couldn’t be better.

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