Article by Alice Greenwald, PhD.
What was once a stop-gap has grown into its own art-form. The Zoom-Play is now de rigeur among the theatre doers and goers and – while we’re patiently waiting for the vaccinated to outweigh the unvaccinated – we can rest assured the Zoom-Play is not going away.
The negative of it is that everything – good, bad, indifferent – can be recorded and displayed. That can make for countless hours of monotony. The really good part of it is that great works of the stage normally not shown for myriad unacceptable reasons can be shown.
Case in point: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This groundbreaking classic work is more timely today that during its premiere and in some ways even more daring.
Susan Agin and the Queensborough Performing Arts Center knew that and deftly produced a Zoom-Play presentation of it initially as a learning tool for its students and then made it available to all aficionados of fine drama. This alone shows their forward thinking and drive. They then handed the reigns over to Jay Michaels and a superior cast of professionals.
Ibsen’s seminal work tells the story of the Helmer family – Nora and Torvald – and those in their immediate stratosphere. As the 19th century comes to a close, we watch its ideologies begin to crumble – along with those of a subservient wife suddenly coming face-to-face both with her [actual] worth and how worthless she has really been. Her shock at learning the consequences of actions done in love and devotion to her husband send her through a maze of epiphanies that question her life and love. One might discuss how times have changed … very very slowly.
Director Jay Michaels is known for putting his own twist to the classics. His productions of Shakespeare’s canon and his contemporaries have won acclaim for inventiveness. Ironically, the wink that he normally applies is not part of his production of Ibsen’s masterpiece. Instead, director Michaels guides us through an intimate and deeply engrossing simplistically (but effectively) designed production allowing the material to breathe. Behind his excellent casting is a hint of period through virtual backgrounds and clever cutaways. This inspired departure from his wheelhouse delivered a definitive rendition of this play.
The cast supplies us with a sense of realism that delivers each punch with precision. Lydia Kalmen as Nora, the lady of the house, begins the play with a sense of naivety that is equal parts engrossing and heartbreaking. With every realization, we see her break and rebuild. Kalmen’s use wide-eyed innocence and lilting tone that so easily became resolve, was masterful as the three acts moved forward. She presented a litany of complex emotions worthy of tour-de-force. Paul Sheehan as Torvald, her husband, was a sea of gusto and bombast. In the wrong hands, the role could seem nefarious but Sheehan supplied the same level of innocence to his station as Kalmen allowing us to realize that all he was doing was living the privileged life he was supposed to live – allowing us the privilege of both fury and empathy toward the character. His flawless speech pattern allowed us to suspend electronic disbelief putting us in Victorian sensibilities and his powerful presence stepped through the camera. Their final exchange (the play’s true meat of the matter) was brilliant.
The other couple in this tale of emerging individualism is Rose Zisa and Pete Feliz as the widowed Mrs. Linde and the down-on-his-luck Krogstad. Choosing to tell her story in a symphony of side glances and pauses, Zisa provided brilliant commentary to Nora’s unwitting glee in being an elitist. Her desire to simply stand behind someone even though she was smarter than all around her should serve as a ponderous lesson. Zisa’s whispered tone gave us the feeling she felt she was always interrupting. Feliz knows what a “lean and hungry look” is and supplied us with some stunning confrontation scenes filled with it. Rumpled and looking a bit sweaty under his frock coat, Feliz’s exchanges with Nora over her indiscretion and how it looks no different that his own were to be savored. Krogstad is oft-called the villain of the play but here he a painful reality that we still face in this post-Trump era.
Dancing through the intimating and the comical, Vincent Ticali imbued freeloading family friend, Dr. Rank, with all the classic and classical nuisances making him a joyous addition and a mirror of a time gone-by and for good reason. Ticali cleverly used his camera making him seem larger (than life) and thus he served as the play’s “musical number.”
Peppering this soufflé were two servants – one a nanny to Nora’s children and the other a perfect Downton Abby style domestic. Donna White and Zara Zeidman as the nurse and maid, retrospectively, gave us fully realized characterizations of the underbelly of the class system of the time.
It will surely take an extra few minutes of scrolling to find stunning virtual experiences such as this on your computer but the search is well worth it. In the storm of viewing that is monopolized by Tiger King and endless Marvel movies, A Doll’s House produced by QPAC cuts through the noise to offer a powerful lesson handled with grace.