In the Chicago premiere of this Henrik Ibsen adaptation, Raven Theatre and director Lauren Shouse create masterful suspense—something that could be difficult to pull off with a setting of 1870s Norway. The strength of Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey’s translation, adapted by herself and Kirsten Brandt, is its use of contemporary language and a tighter, two-act structure to drive this proto-feminist tale of a disintegrating marriage and a young woman discovering herself.
Nora, played by an ebullient and shape-shifting Amira Danan, is a young, cooped-up housewife with little to keep her company but her secrets. While hints of a freethinking spirit shine through, her energy seems more or less stifled by her manipulative husband Torvald, played with Ted Bundy-like charm by Gage Wallace. His seemingly sweet affections for her quickly turn sickening, with animal pet names that reek of chauvinism and manipulation. These two standout performances drive the story as Nora begins to unravel, evidenced by her queasy and hypnotic tarantella dance, and Torvald reveals himself to be the poster child for white male privilege, something we all spotted a mile away.
While the adaptation succeeds in modernizing the dialogue and emotional peaks of this story, originally penned in 1879, Nora’s unspeakable crime, a forged loan document, feels somewhat dated by comparison. Perhaps the stakes could be raised to a more relatable and resonant type of wrongdoing. That would make Nora’s final transformation, a complicated arc Danan plays with grit and subtlety, that much more satisfying. v