by Lynn on June 29, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Court House Theater, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Written by Henrik Ibsen
In a new version by Erin Shields
Directed by Meg Roe
Designed by Camelia Koo
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Music and sound by Alessandro Juliani
Starring: Neil Barclay
Kyle Blair
Andrew Bunker
Darcy Gerhart
Moya O’Connell
Ric Reid
Jacqueline Thair
Mark Uhre

A story of obsession, longing and the power of love in a gripping production.

The Story. Henrik Ibsen wrote this in 1888. It’s been given a new version by Erin Sheilds. The lady in question is Ellida Wangel. She has always lived near the sea from an early age and her obsession with it suggests a deeper, more mysterious attachment.

The production opens with a mysterious woman, sitting naked on a rock, glistening with sea water, almost looking like a mermaid. This is Ellida. She is married to Dr. Wangel. It’s his second marriage. His first wife died. He has two daughters from his first marriage and there is a coolness between the daughters towards Ellida.

Ellida did have a son with Wangel, but he died in infancy. That has devastated her and added to her sense of loss, not fitting in, being anxious. Added to that is that years before she was besotted with a sailor and was engaged to him. But he murdered someone and went to jail. The sailor told her to wait for him which she did. But years passed and she gave up hope and married Wangel.

One day a stranger appears. It is Ellida’s long, lost lover and he gives Ellida an ultimatum, as long, lost lovers tend to do. He wants her to come with him immediately. Never mind that she’s married. He wants her now. Ellida has to make a terrible decision and she’s given the freedom to make it from her loving Dr. Wangel.

The Production. We hear the sea before the lights go up. Alessandro Juliani’s sound design captures the relentless crash of waves. Kevin Lamotte’s gloomy lighting evokes the gloom of Norway. The oppression hangs in the air. Camellis Koo’s spare, austere set completes that sense of the walls closing in. This is a place of gloom, rock, pounding waves and bubbling emotions.

The production opens with a mysterious woman, sitting naked on a rock, glistening with sea water, almost looking like a mermaid. It’s almost dark, so we assume it’s night. We learn that this is Ellida Wangel, who is out for her daily swim. The need for the sea is gripping her to the point that she has to go out even at night.

The production is directed beautifully by Meg Roe. She knows how to mine a play and find its heart and pulse, as well as its humour and pathos. She maintains the balance of that sense of something simmering but could always boil over. And she gets wonderful performances to a person from her cast.

It’s headed by Moya O’Connell as Ellida Wangel, has that tight smile that tries to hide a multitude of emotions. She doesn’t want to alarm her husband but her unhappiness and unease are obvious. O’Connell fairly shimmers with pent up anger, despair, trying to keep a grip on her anxiety. Yet there is an eagerness to be accommodating, a graciousness. It’s a performance of dizzying artistry and it’s typical of Moya O’Connell.

She is beautifully partnered by Ric Reid as Dr. Wangel. He is a fastidious actor. No detail is too small on which to build a character. Wangel obviously loves Ellida and Ric Reid shows us that Dr. Wangel is a doting husband who is fearful of losing his wife and does something daring and true to keep her with him. As Ellida tries to hide her anxiety under a veneer of gracefulness so does Wangel try to hide his frustration in dealing with his wife’s anxiety. He’s not impatient with her. He’s just struggling to find a way to make her happy and show her that he cares and worries for her.

As The Stranger, Mark Uhre, is walking danger. You just know this quiet talking, commanding man is no good. But he is compelling and that’s why Ellisa is so besotted with him.

Comment. This being Henrik Ibsen, the play bubbles with pent up emotions, all sorts of conflicted feelings, and it leaves Ellida and those around her almost breathless with anxiety. They all want something better. It doesn’t necessarily happen.

It’s also adapted by Erin Shields and while she is true to the spirit of the play, there is a fresh sense of the modern world without placing it in a contemporary world. This is a bracing version of the play and that sense is also instilled in the production. The fact that Ibsen knew his way around the rocky shores of a wounded heart so deeply and how it still resonates today, is enough to make The Lady from the Sea a totally modern play.

This is a gem of a production in every way.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Run: April 30-September 13, 2015
Cast: 8; 5 men, 3 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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