Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

A Cross-Dressed Doll House

Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

A Cross-Dressed Doll House

Article excerpt

Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, Santiago, Chile

June - August 2012

Ibsen is not nearly so frequently represented on Chilean stages as he is in neighboring Argentina. In the new century I was able to find records of only two productions in Santiago, a 2004 Lady from the Sea, sponsored by the Norwegian Cultural Center, and a production at the theatre of the University of Santiago of Enemy. On June 15, 2012, Santiago's Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center added to this number with an adaptation of A Doll House, entitled Persiguiendo a Nora Helmer (In Pursuit of Nora Helmer) which enjoyed a run through most of the winter season.

The Teatro La Maria company, which presented this work, is one of the leading theatrical groups in Chile. It was founded in 1999 by Alexandra von Hummel and Alexis Moreno, both graduates of the University of Chile and now, along with the company designer Ricardo Romero, on the theatre faculty. Over the past decade, the Teatro La Maria has developed its own particular style and theatrical concerns, in both its productions of classic works, including Shakespeare, Chekhov, Brecht, and now Ibsen, and in original works, many of them created by director Moreno. Most of them focus on characters isolated or in conflict with their surroundings, like Nora, and the overall vision is a dark one, displaying a dystopic present and a problematic future. Their first productions, all of them works by Moreno, developed a style of rather surrealistic dark parody, which continued as, after 2002, they turned to classic works, beginning with Strindberg's Pelican (2002) and Shakespeare's Hamlet (2003). In addition to the acting style, which combines naturalistic and abstract, almost surrealistic elements, the visual tone of La Maria productions is much influenced by the work of designer Romero, who favors rather abstract settings with a very contemporary feel, technological not so much in the use of specific technology (the emphasis remains on the actors) but on the use of contemporary materials, as in the dark glossy plastic walls that create the box-like Nora Helmer setting.

Clearly, this Doll House is much more influenced by such company aesthetics than by traditional Ibsen productions. This is especially obvious in the opening sequence, lasting about twenty minutes, which challenged even audience members more fluent in Chilean Spanish than I to identify what play was being presented. We first see, in the darkened theatre, erratic flashes of light from a grid of neon tubes that form the ceiling of the set. As this lighting becomes more general and consistent, we see five apparently female figures in a line with their backs to us. After a time, they move upstage and sit in five chairs against the rear wall, most with their legs crossed, apparently in the middle of an extended wait, as if they were potential interviewees for a position or medical patients gathered in a depressing contemporary waiting room. From time to time one of them, an active young woman at the left end of the line, who has brought in a number of shopping bags, goes over to rap loudly and futilely on a door in the wall. The others apply makeup, smoke cigarettes, chat, and quarrel with each other over petty matters. When the figures sit down, we discover, despite their dresses and wigs, that three of them are in fact male. Only the first and last actors in the line are women-Tamara Acosta, who will later emerge as Nora, and Alejandra Oviedo, who will play Christine. In the center of the line is the company's co-director, Alexis Moreno, a very tall, bearded figure, with a bad leg and a modern hand crutch, which helps to mark him eventually as Dr. Rank. On either side of him are Elvis Fuentes and Rodrigo Solo, now in feminine garb, wigs, and makeup, but who will later portray Torvald and Krogstad.

Although occasionally this opening sequence contains a reference to a situation in the play or a character, it is almost impossible to see how any of this relates to Ibsen, or even who the actors represent (though an alert spectator might use the shopping bags to pick out Nora or the crutch for Rank). …

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