Oct. 22 2008 12:00 AM

This old ‘House’ Icarus falls just shy of reviving I

Amy Winchell as Nora in Icarus Falling's "A Doll's House." (Photo courtesy of Icarus Falling)

Icarus Falling begins its 2008 season with Henrick Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” a classic piece of theater in that it is often required reading in college literature classes. A permanent reflection of a woman’s place in society in Victorian-era England, “A Doll’s House” also helped inspire the women’s rights movement, and its themes of self-realization and independence are still relevant today. Some classics continue to entertain, while others have slipped beyond the grasp of today’s average viewer.

The latter are still good for your mind and soul, but are like eating theatrical vegetables with very little seasoning.

Director Daryl Thompson faces significant challenges bringing “A Doll’s House” to contemporary audiences. First, the play was translated from Norwegian into Victorian English, never modern American English.

Second, the shows runs about three hours, and while the two intermissions between acts offer some relief from the story’s dark commentary, they also give unappreciative audience members the chance to exit before the show reaches its climactic conclusion.

The story revolves around Nora (Amy Winchell), a woman who was forced to procure funds illegally while her husband, Trevor (Mark Gmazel), was extremely ill. Now that her husband is better and has been promoted at work, Nora must shift from financial independence to being a domesticated “pet.” Although the loan is almost repaid, lender Krogstad (Adam Bright) is blackmailing Nora, threatening to tell her husband she forged her dead father’s signature on the loan if she doesn’t prevent Trevor from firing Krogstad from his job. The premise is set up in the first act, but the tension and character layers are slowly drawn through the second and third.

Trevor’s friend Dr. Rank (Michael Hays) and Nora’s friend Mrs. Linde (SaDonna White) support the central couple as reflections of the lives the two could have had. Overall, Thompson keeps his cast simmering with a restrained energy that builds suspense. Everyone on stage, including third-grader Jordan Olson, creates realistic and believable characters. For a standard play, this would be enough to keep the show moving and the audience focused. But this is not a standard play. For those who are not familiar with the story or the text, Icarus Falling’s production lacks the charisma to keep audiences from thinking about the time instead of the stage.

The strongest performances consistently come from Gmazel and Hays, whose characters both love Nora in their own ways. The scene of awkward chemistry between Winchell and Hays in Act 2 is perfect, while the interaction between Gmazel and Winchell intensifies all the way to the show’s conclusion.

Thompson’s set is budgeted, but generally effective. Adding to the mood is subtle lighting designed by Jeremy Adams. In many ways, “A Doll’s House” is the most ambitious piece Icarus Falling has ever performed. Those who are familiar with the story will appreciate the efforts of the director and cast. Unfortunately, for those with little knowledge of the script, this show will most likely maintain the gap in understanding that still exists between classic and contemporary theater.

‘A Doll’s House’

Oct. 26 Icarus Falling 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday R.E. Olds
Anderson Rotary Barn, Woldumar Nature Center, 5739 Old Lansing Road,
Lansing (517) 898-1679 www.icarusfalling.com