A Doll's House, Ibsen's masterwork, has been endlessly revived, reimagined, replayed, knocked off, and parodied, but this production at FringeArts - directed by Norwegian Jo Strømgren - may take the bløtkake.

A cast of fine actors - all familiar faces - makes this puzzling production moving, even though it has been radically truncated from three acts to 60 minutes. Lenny Haas is a surprisingly sympathetic and disheveled Torvald, while Suli Holum's irritating Nora seems to laugh much too much. As the dying, besotted Dr. Rank, Pearce Bunting does much with the little he is given to say and do, and creates a character more like a Chekhovian personality. Trey Lyford as Krogstad seems just aggravated rather than tormented, and Mary Lee Bednarek, as Nora's girlhood friend Christine, is lovely in her desperation, although she is forced to schlep around a giant mailbox.

Instead of a house (realism) or a dollhouse (symbolism) - or any number of other ways to convey the metaphor of Nora's realization that she was first her father's doll and is now her husband's plaything - here we have big packing crates (expressionism?). The characters live in these boxes (with tiny doors and tiny cups) and crawl over them, while the floor is littered with crumpled-up paper.

Much of what makes Ibsen's play interesting are the complex and subtle relationships. Characters are hindered by internalized gender expectations, suggesting that marriage is a nearly impossible institution. Central is the way the play reveals limitations that society places on women and gives us the chance to watch a woman discover herself. All this is gone.

Ibsen's play is filled with wonderful lines, most of them now eviscerated or changed by Strømgren. Even the famous door slam that should conclude the play - the most famous sound effect in modern drama - has been eliminated. As has the door.

If there were a revelation that accompanied these changes, if I could feel that, suddenly, new light had been shone onto a play I thought I knew well, I would be thrilled. But these changes just seemed messy and damaging, merely serving an auteur impulse.

THEATER REVIEW

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