The door slam heard 'round the world has never elicited as much of a gasp as it does at the end of Carrie Cracknell's production of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, now running at the BAM Harvey Theater. We all knew the heavy blow was coming — even the Ibsen neophytes — but in the hands of actress Hattie Morahan, this sound (and its implications) shake you to the core.
This isn't a weird, postmodernist take on an old standby. No, this is an "if it ain't broke" revival, straightforwardly directed by Cracknell using a colloquial new translation by the British playwright Simon Stephens. Still, the director has a fascinating concept. Cracknell has envisioned A Doll's House as if it were a film noir, complete with dim lighting that casts uneasy shadows (gorgeously rendered by Guy Hoare), a restless musical score (by Stuart Earl), constricting costumes (Gabrielle Dalton), and a stunningly cramped apartment that rotates 360 degrees (Ian McNeal is the scenic designer).
It's with that in mind that Morahan finds her Nora, a 1950s noir-style femme fatale, one who makes questionable decisions when taking business into her own hands. In this case, that decision was one that Nora claims saved the life of her family and businessman husband, Torvald (Dominic Rowan, perfectly slimy). Nora finds herself blackmailed when local banker Krogstad (Nick Fletcher) threatens to reveal that she obtained a loan by forging her father's signature, a situation that pushes Nora further and further into fear and emotional instability.
Morahan's performance is stunning in its technique as she changes both her body language and vocal inflections depending on whom she's talking to. How she submits to society's male domination before eventually raising herself up is breathtaking, as is the perfectly calibrated maintenance of her delusions. While the principal cast is quite strong, none of them reach the dizzying heights of Morahan's performance. Part of the credit for this goes to Cracknell, who seems to have directed the cast to stay out of Morahan's way, and as a result, scenes where Nora isn't the focal point sometimes suffer.
But then, when Morahan is back onstage, you realize that Nora does not merely observe passively; she also keeps all the wheels in motion, spinning her plates as fast as she can to keep her various faces in order. Let's hope we get to see her in New York again very soon.