‘A Doll’s House’: Best of 19th century literary on stage at BAM

The women's suffrage and civil rights movements were still decades in the future when Henrik Ibsen introduced his play, "A Doll's House," in Copenhagen. But despite the passage of 135 years since then, it hasn't lost any of its freshness, and touches upon some very basic human themes that today's audiences won't have trouble connecting with.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has been hosting a production of “A Doll’s House,” put on by the London-based Young Vic theater company, and if you haven't had the chance to see it, you're in luck: the run has recently been extended to March 23 (for tickets, visit bam.org or call 718.636.4100).

In the lead role as Nora Helmer, Hattie Morahan was both cheerful and mischievous, making good use of a sort of singsong vocal comedy that called to mind old episodes of "Are You Being Served" and "Fawlty Towers." It worked and it worked well, with her inflections carving out little toeholds in the minds of audience members where the more pleasant snippets of the aggregating schemes with which she continually beset her husband could find purchase as the story crescendoed. Morahan was equally convincing in serious scenes, stoking her character's anger and frustration to a level that could have put an action film aficionado on the edge of his seat.

Another standout performance among many very good ones was put forth by Nick Fletcher, in the role of Nils Krogstad. Although Krogstad's purpose is to blackmail the naïve Nora, Fletcher played up his character's desperation, honestly portraying a man who simply wanted another chance. Krogstad may have reached low into his bag of tricks in order to find a suitable instrument with which to make Nora play ball, but the actor made it easy for the audience to empathize, and even like his character.

The set, which looked like something Buckminster Fuller could have dreamt up before building the first circular Dymaxion House, was set upon a large rotating table, so that each room of the Helmer family's home was visible at the appropriate time. When operating at full tilt, the spinning rooms — aside from giving the audience a full picture of what each family member present was up to — had an effect similar to a movie montage. The fact that players were able to exit the whirling mini-world, stage left and unseen, at the opportune moment made a strong case for their level of preparedness and for the expertise of Quinny Sacks, who was in charge of choreography.

Anyone who left the theater wondering when their coach and four would draw nigh to carry them off into the night can thank Gabrielle Dalton's outstanding costume design. The characters, as dressed, could have been the living embodiment of a Currier & Ives print.

If you've ever thought of 19th century literature as dull or irrelevant, plays like "A Doll's House," particularly in Young Vic's well-executed guise, would do plenty to help change your mind. At the very least, it is a piece of literature that — past its glaring admonition of chauvinism — does its best to prompt audience members to ask themselves if they're treating their closest loved ones with the respect and attention they deserve.

Hattie Morahan and Steve Toussaint

Hattie Morahan with Dominic Rowan, who plays Nora’s husband, Torvald.

Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan