Jul. 7th, 2010 10:31 pm
dickens: (dance)
[personal profile] dickens
I recently saw a production of Dollhouse by Rebecca Gilman at the Guthrie. This is adapted from Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. The story of Nora and Torvald in the late 19th century becomes the story of Nora and Terry in the early 21st century (post Enron et al, pre-mortgage crisis).

The story translates pretty well to modern America. But I don't really feel like it said anything new. In some ways, 21st century Nora is less of a progressive character than her 19th century counterpart. She seems to have less agency at a couple of key points in the narrative.

The story remains very similar, Nora has borrowed money, without her husband's knowledge, to pay for treatment he requires. (Ibsen - a trip to warmer climate so T can recover from a serious illness, Gilman - treatment after T. becomes addicted to pain killers after a serious injury.) Nora's debt is called in and she faces the possibility that T. will find out.

Where things differ:
Both Noras use money from housekeeping to pay back the debt, but Ibsen's Nora (Nora1?) is also hiding work she does for pay (she pretends to work on secret projects that always fail in some way). Gilman's Nora (Nora2) has to account for all of her spending because Terry goes through all her receipts. Based on that, I don't know how realistic it is that she could make any payments toward the debt.

Nora2 didn't just borrow what they needed for Terry's treatment, 70% of the loan went toward a down payment on a condo and high-end furniture.

Both manipulate their husbands, Nora1 by playing up her vulnerability, Nora2 by playing up her sexuality. I haven't actually seen a live production of Ibsen's play, I've just read it several times, so I don't know if Nora1 looks ridiculous, but Nora2's sexual manipulation is definitely played for laughs.

Nora1 forges a signature to get the loan. (Though she argues that no country ought to consider it a crime since she did it to save her husband.) Nora2 accepts a loan from someone who just received a loan from her husband's bank. This make it appear that he received a kickback. She doesn't even get credit for the crime, he would have to be an accomplice.

The end of the original play was pretty shocking in 1879, Nora leaves Torvald and her children. Gilman tried to create a similarly controversial ending. (It said so in the program.) In this play, Nora2 leaves (Terry points out she has neither bus or cab fare), then comes back in, she's clearly going to stay after all.

The play ends with the following dialogue:
Nora: You're going to pay for this.
Terry: I know.

The end didn't satisfy me the way the end of the original does.

I see Nora1 as a woman who has inner strength that she is repressing in the hope that there will be an ultimate reward (Torvald will find out and forgive her). I think Nora2 is supposed to be a woman who finds out that she has strength during the course of the play. I just didn't buy it with this actress.

Final note, the guy who makes the loan, Krogstad in the original, is Raj Patel in the adaptation. So POCs in the play are housekeeper, nanny, and villain (rehabilitated by the redemptive power of the white woman's luv. (bleh))

Date: 2010-07-08 02:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't really buy that coming back to stay after all has become as shocking as leaving would have been in 1879. I have heard that kind of argument before, and I find it pretty facile.

And the white woman's luv: bleh indeed.

Date: 2010-07-08 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I can see why the playwright may have thought it was the shocking option. But leaving-and-coming-back ends up reinforcing the audience's opinion that Nora is deluding herself/defeated.

Now if she'd just stayed, her last line might have carried more weight.


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