By Roger McBain, Evansville Courier & Press
March 19, 2010
Had he written it a century later, it might have been hailed as feminist drama.
Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” is so much more than that, however, as the professional and student players so powerfully demonstrated in the University of Southern Indiana’s Mallette Studio Theatre, Thursday.
Director Elliot Wasserman’s team of actors, designers and technicians delivered a memorable 21/2 hours of engaging, probing, revealing theater to an audience of about 60.
It was an impressive opening for USI Theatre and New Harmony Theatre’s 2010 Repertory Project, casting Actors Equity professionals alongside students in two productions – “A Doll’s House” and William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” — playing alternating dates.
Letitia Lange, one of this year’s pair of professionals, lifted much of the dramatic load as Nora, working desperately to hide a secret as she plays out her role as a dutiful, devoted and entertaining wife and mother in a model marriage.
Her performance was a revelation, moving from a vision of easy, unthinking domestic contentment to a shattering epiphany delivered in a fallen smile, a piercing sigh, a flailing tarantella.
The rest of the cast performed solidly, as well, in a progressive revelation that scratches and scrapes at the seemingly flawless facade of a marriage, a home, and ultimately, the very foundations of proper, middle-class society in 19th-century Norway.
As Nora’s husband, Torvald, Jeremy Brailsford offered a transformative portrait of patronizing affection, suffocating self-righteousness and character implosion.
Rachel Shenk brought a steadfast humanity and a clear sense of self to the role of Mrs. Linde, the widow who helps Nora make her discovery. And Brandon Eck’s portrayal of Krogstad, the fallen figure whose appearance triggers the household crisis, made him an ambiguous and ultimately sympathetic antagonist.
The production’s other Equity actor, John Windsor-Cunningham, played the family friend Dr. Rank with an understated blend of wry humor, wistful resignation and frustrated affection.
Scenic designer Robert Broadfoot and lighting designer Craig A. Young have created perhaps the most sumptuous setting ever mounted USI’s black box theater, in a multilevel thrust stage that brings the audience right into the drawing room.
The cuts, colors and textures of Shan Jensen’s costume designs reflecte period, situation and character of each player, from bustled skirts and constricting bodices of the women to the lapelled formality of the men.
It was a promising opening for this season’s Repertory Project pairing and a moving endorsement of the concept of bringing professionals and students together on the same stage.