Friday, July 31, 2015

Ibsen’s well-conceived “The Lady from the Sea” examines women’s issues at The Shaw

“Women have to unlearn the false good manners of their slavery before they acquire the genuine good manners of their freedom. ”  (G. B. Shaw) 

As the era of Romanticism in the theatre faded away in nineteenth century Europe, it was replaced by Realism.  Realism, the attempt to look at the issues of the day with discerning eyes and an invitation to examine what was going on, and if change was needed.  One of the most important issues was the role of women.  For many years, females were to assume the role of dutiful wife and, if unmarried, dutiful daughters.  There was little opportunity for unwed women to enter into productive career other than a few restrictive “old maid” positions. Careers such as being a nanny or a nurse. 

Henrik Ibsen was a major Norwegian playwright who was largely responsible for the rise of the realistic play.  He is often referred to as the "father of modern drama." Ibsen is one of the most important playwrights of all time, generally revered in western world literary circles.

Ibsen’s plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe and any challenge to them was considered immoral and outrageous.   Ibsen set a goal to upset those narrow attitudes.

Victorian-era plays were expected to be moral dramas with protagonists pitted against darker forces.  The serious plays of the times were expected to result in a morally appropriate conclusion, thus goodness brought happiness, and immorality pain.  Ibsen challenged the required format.

Ibsen was interested in examining the world with an eye to a realistic, rather than a morally idealistic conclusion.  He wanted to make the playgoer think about the world and decide what needed to be done to make it a more fulfilling and rewarding place.

 “The Lady From the Sea” is a typical Ibsenian tale of examination.  The script concerns marriage, freedom, and a woman’s right to make decisions for herself.

Filled with symbolism, the story centers on Ellida, who lives where the fjord meets the open sea.  She is married to Doctor Wangel, a widower who has two grown daughters (Bolette and Hilde).  Ellida had a son who died as a baby.

Ellida and the doctor’s marriage is filled with angst.  Part of this centers on the fact that Ellida had been engaged to a sailor who was accused of murdering his captain, and fled, leaving Ellida unfulfilled.  When the sailor returns to claim her, she must make a choice between staying in her marriage or leaving with the sailor.  Dr. Wangel releases her and [spoiler alert] much to his delight, she chooses to stay with him.

The Shaw production, under the direction of Meg Roe, is true to the intent and purpose of the author.  The show, which is all dialogue and little action, could become tedious, but the pacing, the music and sound, and the acting grab and hold attention.

The cast is universally strong, with excellent performances by Moya O’Connell as Ellida and Ric Reid as Doctor Wangel.  Both create characters who not only assume their roles, but become the character’s persona.  This is important as the play is one of the first in the era of Modern Realism, thus requiring total character integrity.

The starkness of the lighting and set work well, but at times, the huge cliff in the middle of the small acting area, causes movement difficulty and blocks some of the audience from viewing the performers.

Capsule judgement:  “The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is very worth seeing.

What: ”The Lady from the Sea”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Court House Theatre
When:  April 30 to September 13, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or