Luxury voyage

The Lady from the Sea

By Henrik Ibsen
Translated by Rolf Fjelde
Directed by Alfred Christie
Century Center for the Performing Arts
111 E. 15th St. (982-6782)
Equity Showcase (closes Nov.18)
Review by Doug DeVita

What is it that continues to keep the works of Henrik Ibsen constantly on the world's stages? His dialogue rarely sparkles with rich poetry, his exposition is clunky and obvious, his plots can be somewhat fantastic, even contrived. And yet the ideas behind each individual work are breathtaking in their perception of the human mind and state of being. In addition, his ability to make what are generally internal thought processes into external action is extraordinary. These two facts alone are enough to give his works a resonance that makes them as powerful today as they were when they were first produced over a hundred years ago.

The Century Center Ibsen Series continues its ambitious project of presenting all 12 of Ibsen's major works with The Lady From The Sea, a spellbinding examination of the power of obsessive memory, free will, forgiveness and redemption. Ellida Wangel, though married to a kind and loving doctor, continues to be haunted by memories of a past love, memories that bring her to the brink of insanity.
One might miss the sense of discovery and wonder that permeated  their The Wild Duck last spring, but nevertheless Alfred Christie's gently traditional approach was a moving experience that traded thrilling theatrical invention in favor of subtle intelligence and grace. Everything bespoke the extreme care and good taste that went into its making, and the result was an intriguing evening that provided, in the words of Ibsen scholar Rolf Fjelde, "conflict that resonates with all the contrasting values of land and sea: the fixed against the fluid, the defined against the indefinable, the predictable against the unknown."
Using Fjelde's translation, Christie did make some judicious cuts to the text without any discernible damage, and elicited strong performances from his talented ensemble. Laurena Mullins, despite some obvious acting choices early on, grew stronger as the evening progressed and ultimately made a touching Ellida, a mixture of vulnerability and strength playing off each other with the force of the sea that both fascinates and tortures her so relentlessly. Jennifer E. Corby, Tina Jones, and Steve Witting, as the doctor's daughters from a previous marriage and their former tutor, contributed the most consistently excellent work, particularly Witting, an actor of considerable ability.
Tim Goodmanson's set, Peter Petrino's lighting, and Sydney Maresca's costumes were all exquisite. Looking like a Maxfield Parrish painting, the production's dreamlike design, along with John Littig's superb sound design, added to the contrasting moods of both Ibsen's play and Christie's interpretation of it.
Elegantly directed, well-performed and visually beautiful, this Lady From The Sea may not have been the most original or revelatory production, but it stood as a testament to the very real pleasures to be had from an evening of intelligently wrought theatre, as well as the continuing power of the "father of modern drama," Henrik Ibsen.
(Also featuring Christopher Burns, Jay Gould, and Larry Petersen)
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita