In his loopy take on Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece “A Doll’s House,” Norwegian playwright/director/choreographer Jo Strømgren captures much of the play’s intensity while removing its formalities. The house that bank manager Torvald and his wife, Nora, live in is not just a metaphor – it’s really a miniature. In addition to reimagining and directing the play Strømgren designed the show’s set. The cast roams through small doors into teensy rooms (at one point a character even makes fun of the tight squeezes) and sits on grade-school chairs at a little-kid table.
The dialogue is up to date, even cheeky, and sometimes characters appear from nowhere or crawl on a stage dotted by unexplained flotsam, or atop the house’s roof or to the rear of its frame. Are they neighborhood strays? Or the inner spirits of these people? Or just the seeming imperatives of a FringeArts production? Beats me. In the hands of adapters, “A Doll’s House” seems to be putty, sometimes Silly Putty.
But the important thing here is that Strømgren’s hour-long interpretation of Ibsen’s three-act play holds together: It’s the same story — strangely told. (Funny, too, at times.) Nora (Suli Holum), who has helped her husband in a secret way, is still trapped by his protection and smothered by his ideas, which also are society’s at large. Torval (Leonard C. Haas) is still trapped by his rigidity and smothered by his ambition.
Haas and Holum make odd interpretations of their characters work. He plays Torval as a one-man Party of No but also the sort of messy-looking guy who lacks confidence; she’s a giddy Nora on the outside, but one with a slow internal roil. Both actors went to Norway along with the strong supporting cast – Pearce Bunting, Mary Lee Bednarek and Trey Lyford – to develop the show with Strømgren, who has three FringeArts-produced pieces in this year’s festival. They came back to Philadelphia with a show that may abandon some of Ibsen’s deeper ideas, but nicely dresses the play’s basic theme in a curious theatricality.
_A Doll’s House, from Jo Strømgren Kompani and presented by FringeArts, runs through Sept. 6 at FringeArts, Race Street at Columbus Boulevard, to the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Click through for information about the Philly Fringe Festival, which runs through Sept. 19.