For those who know Ibsen’s most-lasting contribution only for its protofeminism, prepare for a surprise. Sure, in Carrie Cracknell’s production at BAM, imported from the Young Vic (through March 16), Torvald remains a patronizing husband, and Nora still makes her courageous, play-concluding exit—”you don’t understand me at all!”—but it turns out A Doll’s House offers much more: here, it’s a gripping thriller, driven equally by its narrative and the riveting central performance by Hattie Morahan. Her Nora is the OG Blanche DuBois, a master of aggressively maintained delusion (for whom even eating a chocolate becomes a subversive act to put you on edge), her emotional disintegration all the more compelling for her ability to put on a brave face for family and friends, to lose it, to throw it back on, to fall apart alone in a corner and rise back up in the middle of a room, surrounded by company. The same way lobby placards tend to warn you about smoke and loud noises, a sign at the Harvey should caution you could have an anxiety attack just by watching her.
Not that she doesn’t have good reason to be so worked up: she secretly borrowed a few thousand from a man named Krogstad (a perfectly cast Nick Fletcher, the Platonic ideal of Bureaucrat) soon to be dismissed by her husband at the bank where they work; she forged a signature on the form, a potentially blockbusting crime to which her lender recently became privy, the consequences for which he holds over her head to goad her into persuading her husband to keep him on. Ian MacNeil’s spinning set reveals private rooms almost indecorously, just as the play reveals Nora’s bookkeeping secrets and the confidences of others: the family’s best friend’s declining health, Krogstad’s scandalized past. Ibsen’s subject here seems to be the tenuousness of a middle-class position, how easily it can fall apart due to illness, bankruptcy, or a professional mistake. In the modern cinema, Ibsen’s tightening plot screws would lean to a breaking point, to murder for sure, but instead the playwright plays it bathetically: everything works out how the characters would have wanted, just not how they would have wanted, thus the surprising conclusion in which Nora sees her husband for how he really is; it’s not the middle class that’s so precarious as it is the marriage bond (one perhaps inextricably linked with the other?). The clarity with which she’s suddenly possessed makes her, finally, the anti-DuBois: in Simon Stephens’s English version, she calls her husband a stranger, then adds, “people shouldn’t depend on strangers.”
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Full disclosure: The L‘s parent company publishes the programs for BAM.