A Dull House

As Peter Brook of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and so many others like him and after him realized, a classic play is most worth doing if the director bestows new insight, or a new interpretation on the work. Brook brought King Lear to powerful, violent life reflecting his explosive society of the Sixties. Last year at New World School of the Arts Jorge Guerra directed a brilliant revival of the classic Greek drama Antigone, using effects from the electronic age and making modern parallels about tyranny and its impact on the mass mind.

When Henrik Ibsen wrote his plays over one hundred years ago, he changed the theater forever with new concepts, style and premises. In fact, his main theme was how men of simple truth come into conflict with the falsity of society and the status quo. Ibsen's plays were lean, cleanly structured and dealt with curiously modern issues. One of his greatest works -- A Doll House -- written in 1879, concerns the emancipation of a woman's consciousness from her emotionally bereft and domineering husband.

Since Ibsen stood for revolution, and his main character Nora initiates a woman's revolution against her hypocritical mate Torvald, and further, since classics are universal and should reflect the revolutionary ideas of our times, I have no idea why Rafael de Acha of New Theatre -- which I sometimes think should be renamed Old Theatre -- chose to clumsily cut up A Doll House and present it in the most stylized, and non-provocative way possible.

Certainly the story yields enough potential juice. Nora, pampered by Papa and now Hubby, seems to enjoy her role as a toy. But when she borrows money from the wrong person (because of a noble motive), is subsequently blackmailed, then further brutalized by her husband's shallow values, she comes to see her gilded cage, her doll house, as a prison of both body and soul. In the final scene, when she confronts Torvald, we should see the emergence of feminine power. Throughout the play, we should see the subtle changes taking place in Nora's mind. From director and "adaptor" de Acha, we get none of that.

Instead, the audience must endure two hours that evoke all the enthusiasm of a cold cup of tea: traditionally-made, but without even the punch Ibsen wrote into the piece, let alone the opportunity de Acha might have seized of making this play a real contemporary statement. Why produce A Doll House and render it so lifeless? Just because you have a theater? Do you have to sit on the toilet all the time because you have a bathroom?

Many directors in this area choose plays not because they have a unique vision for a specific production, but rather because:

1. They might "make it" on Broadway; or
2. They liked the play in high school/college; or
3. They think it's noble to do certain pieces, like the classics.

Directors should understand that a creative vision equal to the original playwright's must underlie every production. Adaptors must be driven by a compulsion to do a certain work, in a certain light, because of its mode or message. Otherwise, you're just trying to fill up a season and sell seats, and have no overall development plan for your small theater company.

As for the cast of the New Theater version, suffice it to say they are also stiff or overcompensating for tedium. Andrew Noble fits into the latter category, a good actor in the now trivial role of adoring Dr. Rank, pushing way too much to get things going. Greg Schroeder, doing his entire stint as the villain like Dastardly Dan with gritted teeth, often brings to mind more a ventriloquist than an actor. (I would have said the wooden dummy, but perhaps that's a bit too strong.) Tom Amick as Torvald and Phebe Finn as Nora are tall people who don't humiliate themselves, but they don't keep you awake either. Lisa Morgan-Patrick as a facilitator and friend of Nora's makes no impact, and probably could be excised from this "adaptation."

The set has now been seen in too many New Theatre productions -- I'm getting a bit tired of the same chairs, rug and punch bowl gimmicks -- and the lights set into perpetual dusk: a further incentive to check out and nod off. In fact, the set consists only of props, and not very imaginative ones, either.

The audience on the night I attended seemed mildly pleased and offered polite applause, which might be attributed to the curious poseur psychology of feeling better about oneself and one's education because one went to see the great Ibsen. Problem is, Ibsen himself didn't see the theater experience as anything like that. He explored strange areas of experience; he remained fascinated with genius battling against mediocrity. He would have railed against A Doll House being rendered so conventionally, so safely. It is this very conventional bull that his finest heroine, Nora, runs away from in the end, as should any person seeking courageous theater.

A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen, directed and adapted by Rafael de Acha; with Phebe Finn, Tom Amick, Greg Schroeder, and Lisa Morgan-Patrick. At New Theatre, 65 Almeria Avenue, Coral Gables, through February 14. Performances Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 5:00 pm. Tickets cost $12.50-$15. Call 443-5909.

Stage Notes
First, a notice to all theatrical producers: The calendar listings for theater have been moved to this section and will now be handled by yours truly. Please direct all information about upcoming shows to my attention and please -- get these in as early as possible. This fine publication works on approximately a two-week lead time, so if you want your show mentioned, you can't send the data in two days before it opens.

To readers, notice that all shows reviewed will in future weeks contains not only listing information, but a capsule commentary as well. This should further help to guide your viewing selections.

But enough about me and New Times. Far more important is the upcoming 5th annual AIDS Walk Miami scheduled for March 7, 1993, in which over 30 cultural organizations intend to participate in teams. One of these teams consists of the Theater League of South Florida, representing dramatic venues from Palm Beach to Monroe County. The walk kicks off at 10 in the a.m. with an opening ceremony at South Pointe Park on Miami Beach, will then proceed up Washington Avenue, around Lincoln Road Mall and finally return to South Pointe. Walkers benefit many South Florida AIDS organizations, including the largest service group: Health Crisis Network (HCN). Last year, about 8000 people put heel and toe to pavement for this more than worthwhile cause; this time, organizers like Amy Phillips and David Alt plan for even more. If you're interested in joining the theater team, or just strolling on your own, contact HCN at 754-4444.

Finally, if you have a day to spare, and enjoy classic musicals in the finest dinner theater atmosphere possible, head up I95 to the Jupiter Theatre.

It's pricey, the current offering (through February 14) is the dusty old Man of La Mancha, but the food and ambience truly excel, as does the production itself. For more information, call 407-746-5566.

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