Playwright: Henrik Ibsen
At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: Redtwist.org 773-728-7529; $35-$40. Runs through: Dec. 10
Over a century ago, Henrik Ibsen declared Victorian moralityto women, especially. Ever since, allegedly enlightened societies have continued to hide behind equivocation, speculation and flat-out denial in their attempts to rein in the vehemence of his diatribe on the folly of blind obedience to rigidly inhumane convention.
We meet the widow Alving on an auspicious occasion: tomorrow is the dedication ceremony of the orphanage that will serve as the late Captain Alving's legacy, the residue of his estate going toward its operations under the administration of their church leader, Pastor Manders. More wecome to Helene Alving, however, is the return of her long-absent son Oswald from his pursuit of an artistic career in Paris. Little does the devoted mother and wife suspect that this reunion will precipitate the undoing of all her plans, not to mention exposing the futility of her sacrifices on their behalf.
Erin Murray's premiere adaptation mostly adheres to the original text, with a few slight emendationsstarting with Mrs. Alving addressed by her given name, Helen. Our locale is designated "an island" in the playbill, and the actors speak without accents ( except for Manders' tendency to orate even in casual conversation ), but the casting of African-American actors as housemaid Regina and tradesmen Jacob, coupled with reference indicating a maritime-based economy, hint at a colonial-governed outpost.
Playgoers versed in the play's many translations will also note a number of modern motifs inserted by the author/directorsome intensifying the anger lying beneath the characters' regrets, but others inadvertently diluting the extent to which they can be held individually accountable for their misdeeds. ( Helen's deceased husband, for example, is now represented as a likewise frustrated victim of his own robust appetites instead of a hard-drinking philanderer well-deserving of a memorial founded on criminal activities. )
The cast assembled for this intimate Redtwist production strive mightily to overcome the shortcomings of Murray's as-yet-incomplete framing concept. Jacqueline Grandt navigates Ibsen's literary syntax with virtuoso skill to deliver a delicately nuanced performance as the remorseful Helen Alving, as does Sophie Hoyt as the pragmatic Regina and Lionel Gentle as her wily sire. Ultimately, though, their brave efforts cannot dispel a curiously flattened dramatic tone leading us to wonder what all the fuss was about in 1882.