Henrik Ibsen
Nicholas Rudall, translator

(Ivan R. Dee)
Those of us who had the misfortune to major in what they used to call "English" had to wade through dreadful head-drooping, bottom-aching, nose-itching, ear-rattling, brain-crumbling plays by the likes of Kyd, Marlowe, Wycherly, Gay, Marston, Dekker and Ford ... and the biggest gloomy-gus of them all, Shakespeare. Those of us in search of true pain subjected ourselves to the medieval cycles: "the York Cycle," "The Chester Cycle," "the Wakefield Cycle," "the Bicycle," "the Tricycle," "the Icicle," and the longest agony of them all, "The Ring Cycle."

Those of us who were fool enough to do ancient tragedy suffered through Antigone, the Trojan Women, Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, the Eumenides and the entire Oedipus Cycle, possibly even longer than the Ring Cycle: Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and, finally, Oedipus' Mumsie.

Then there was "Modern Drama" --- Ibsen, Strindberg, and the other "neo-realists" including Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. It was agony pure and simple, let me tell you.

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It goes without saying that plays are meant to be played, not read. Shakespeare is a fine example: try to spend an evening with Lear or Hamlet. Ditto in spades with Julius Caesar  or Richard III. Most of the characters in Shakespeare are not the sort you'd want to be going to raves with --- be it Othello, Brutus or Henry IV Part I or his half-brother Henry IV Part II.

It is no wonder that many of us, in the years since then, have avoided drama-on-the-page as much as possible. It is only in the line of duty, and a promised bonus from the tight-fisted editors of RALPH --- they promised a weekend in Sun City --- that I forced myself to spend an afternoon with Nora Helmer, and her husband Torvald in their Norwegian Doll's House.

Maybe it's Nicholas Rudall's new translation. Maybe it's a matter of the gods. I couldn't put it down. It's tight, and terse --- reads like a fine short novel. Nora is pure schizoid, alternatively happy and then moments later, threatening to kill herself. To Torvald she acts like a doll --- and he, naturally, wants to keep her there, in pretty dresses, a slave of love, with their doll-like children. But a villainous blackmailer by the name of Krogstad appears on the scene, curling his black moustache, saying, "Now, me proud beauty, I have you in my power."

Nora and Torvald also fight over the øres ("But we can't just go wasting money..." "You could give me more money ... no more than you think you can spare...") making this bit of 19th Century drama just like a 21st century marriage & mortgage drama , the usual battles of the budget in the master bedroom when the kids are asleep.

There's some byplay with a Dr. Rank, who's secretly in love with Nora (and who is secretly dying of syphilis --- venereal disease being an old Ibsen standby); there's a crafty friend (another ex-lover) --- Mrs. Linde --- but above all, the triad of Krogstad, Nora, and Torvald makes for a wonderful case study of what, now, in the early 21st century, we call a dysfunctional family. Nora's decision to become a late Victorian hippie, on the road, children left behind, makes for a rambling good melodrama, especially for those of us who are still fans of that particular genre.

--- Lolita Lark
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