Proclaim it on Twitter: #ElectrifyingDuo!
Theatre for a New Audience performs 'A Doll's House' and 'The Father' in repertory
Home is where the heart is.
Home is where the hate is.
Two of the most searing dramas ever about marriage — by playwrights who detested each other — are here, in tandem, in Brooklyn.
Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) is performing “A Doll’s House” and “The Father” at Polonsky Shakespeare Center in the Brooklyn Cultural District.
This is the first time an English-language theatre has presented the two late 19th-Century plays in repertory.
It’s an extraordinary experience to watch them performed back-to-back by the same actors. See both plays in a single day if you think you have the emotional stamina.
They were made for each other. Or more precisely, one was made because of the other.
August Strindberg, who is sometimes called “Sweden’s Shakespeare,” wrote “The Father” in response to “A Doll’s House, ” Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s masterwork.
To summarize for Twitter: #ElectrifyingDuo!
A 1930s Thornton Wilder adaptation
TFANA is using an adaptation of “A Doll’s House” by American writer Thornton Wilder whose most recent New York City performance was its 1937 Broadway premiere. It’s an absolutely terrific version of the play.
TFANA commissioned Scottish author David Greig, who’s the artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, to write a new version of “The Father.” It’s very powerful.
Two of the chief collaborators in the just-opened dual-blockbuster production are director Arin Arbus and actor John Douglas Thompson.
She is TFANA’s associate artistic director. He is the man the New York Times called “one of the most compelling classical stage actors of his generation.” He plays Thorwald in “A Doll’s House” and the Captain in “The Father.”
Arbus and Thompson — who are both Brooklyn residents, by the way — previously worked together as director and title character in widely acclaimed TFANA productions of “Othello” and “Macbeth.” Thompson won an Obie Award for his role as Othello.
‘I’ve been your doll-wife’
Before going into detail about Thompson’s superlative performances in TFANA’s dueling Scandinavian plays, a standing ovation must first be offered to Maggie Lacey for her incandescent star turn as Nora in “A Doll’s House.”
She’s got our full attention from the moment she bursts through the front door of her beautiful bourgeois home, bearing a stack of just-purchased Christmas gifts. She carries a fur muff like a pampered rich girl would.
At times, Lacey makes her voice a little bit breathy, like an echo of Marilyn Monroe portraying an innocent sexpot.
Until her life comes crashing down, Thorwald’s “doll-wife” — as Nora refers to herself at the end of the play — is an expert at manipulating her man. After eight years of marriage, it’s a deeply engrained habit.
One gesture Lacey uses in her winsome wheedling is curling her hands like paws, like an adorable doggie on its hind legs trying to win a treat, and saying, “Thorwald! I beg you.”
But begging doesn’t work when Nora asks her husband, the newly appointed manager of a savings bank, not to fire Krogstad, who secretly did her a huge favor that involved forgery on her part.
Who knew bankers could be so passionate?
Krogstad, played by an excellent Jesse J. Perez, is an enjoyable villain to watch. He’s fighting for a comeback, and he’s a widower with kids. The audience is 1,000 percent on Team Nora, but feels pangs of sympathy for this desperate man.
And now a word about Thompson, whose Thorwald is a superb foil for Nora.
Thompson perfectly brings to life the dignified, self-important Thorwald, who indulges Nora when she’s a “nice little girl,” and the mood strikes him. When Thorwald’s not busy patronizing her, he’s still attracted to her like he was when they were first married.
But when trouble arrives, it turns out that Thorwald loves himself a great deal more than he loves his wife.
When he finds Nora forged her dead dad’s signature, he self-combusts. By the time Thorwald is finished shouting about the blight her action could cast on his reputation, he is panting with rage.
Who knew bankers could be so passionate?
“A Doll’s House” famously ends with Nora slamming the front door when she leaves their house forever. In this production, after the famous door-slam, there’s a memorable final onstage tableau.
‘My enemy queen’
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Especially when it’s a case of one spouse laying waste to the other’s mind.
In “The Father,” the Captain is driven to the edge of insanity by his wife, Laura.
He’s a military man, but she’s the superior warrior in their relationship. Her weapons are psychological.
Before the war ends, he hails her as his “enemy queen.”
John Douglas Thompson delivers a tour-de-force performance as the Captain — including a long stretch of it in a straitjacket.
Maggie Lacey is brilliant in the role of Laura, whom she plays as a steely character, full of subtle cunning. Laura wants to keep her only child, Bertha (played ably by Kimber Monroe), at home. The Captain wants to send the teenager to town for her education. Good luck with that, sir.
Strindberg’s play gives the audience a relentless emotional hammering.
Before there was “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with its brawling spouses, there was “The Father,” with the Captain throwing a candle-lit lamp at his wife that sets the house on fire.
In contrast to what goes on in “A Doll’s House,” it’s the women who infantilize the men in “The Father.”
Nanny Margaret, a creepy, pious old servant played just right by Laurie Kennedy, calls the Captain “Little Adolf” and tells him she still wants to take care of him like she did when he was a tiny tyke.
“The Father” is full of bitter one-liners, like the one about the “caged tigers,” as the Captain calls the women of the household.
“If I didn’t keep waving a fiery stick under their noses they’d tear me apart,” he says.
When the warring spouses face off for the last time, Laura says, “And here you are. Broken — and I’m free. What happened to us?”
The Captain, bound in his straitjacket, replies, “Marriage.”
* * *
“A Doll’s House” and “The Father” play in repertory through June 12 at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center. For tickets, go to tfana.org or visit the box office at 262 Ashland Place.
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