Review: The overwrought ‘Lady from the Sea’

My hat’s off to EgoPo for staging the rarely-produced 1888 work that out-Ibsens Ibsen.

Oh, the angst! (Of it all!) In a season of three plays by master Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, EgoPo Classic Theater is presenting a rarely-produced work that out-Ibsens Ibsen. EgoPo, which is wringing the overwrought emotion from “The Lady from the Sea” in an uneven production, could as easily have interpreted the play as Ibsen’s parody of himself.

My hat’s off to EgoPo, in any case, for staging the 1888 play — a part of the master’s later works, written after more regularly performed classics (“A Doll’s House,” “Ghosts,” “An Enemy of the People” ) and just before “Hedda Gabler” and “The Master Builder.”

In those plays, the Ibsen touch is nuanced in its explorations of morality and social expectations; he revealed a great emotional intelligence, before we had that phrase. In “The Lady from the Sea,” Ibsen seems to dispense with his pen and comes at us with hammers and maybe even a drill or two to make sure we get the point.

In the drama, the lady in question (played with appropriate aloofness by Genevieve Perrier) was raised at a lighthouse and now suffers through a dull marriage in a land-locked Norwegian town, whose fiord cannot replace the magic the sea created for her. Her idea of freedom is linked with the sea and with a certain sailor from her past. By contrast, now, she really is trapped — with a well-off physician (Ed Swidey) who sees her more as a medical case of jangled nerves than a wife.

The doc, whose first wife died, has two daughters who merely put up with their stepmother. They’re entertaining a former tutor (Ross Beschler). The older girl (K.O. DelMarcelle) is coming of age to marry and the younger one has a way with contempt (but is not awash in the torrent of nastiness that Lee Minora supplies in the role). There’s a young man who hangs about (Kevin Chick) and a man who’s painting a portrait of a stranded mermaid (in this production, a woman, played by Colleen Corcoran).

A stranded mermaid – yes! We get it! Ibsen is advanced, as ever, in showing the way women are treated as fragile and generally incapable by men who enter into ownership more than partnership in marriage. But he telegraphs his punches so early and often in “The Lady from the Sea,” it’s the audience he hits, not the characters. Brenna Geffers directed the production, which has a bare-bones feel, and what was the little silent ending – a few seconds that appear to show the intentions of some of the characters after the story is finished? None of that is in the script – the one generally used, a translation by Ibsen’s contemporary, Eleanor Marx-Aveling. If that’s being used by EgoPo, I can’t say, because the program credits only Ibsen.“The Lady from the Sea,” produced by EgoPo Classic Theater, runs through March 2 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, to the west side of Christ Church, of Second Street between Market and Arch Streets.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.