Staying true to yourself, finding your own voice and even your own form of expression as an artist is a significant challenge. Those who succeed in doing so possess determination and verticality. Such is the case with director Carmen Lidia Vidu and her show Me. A Doll House, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House.” The performance is part of “Future is Feminine,” a project curated by Cristina Modreanu and presented in the SubletSeries at Here Arts Center in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.
At the core of the performance is Nora, a character who slowly awakens to the realization that her marriage and her entire life are defined by the men in her life – first her father, then her husband. To the former, she was the “child-doll,” while to the latter, she was the “wife-doll.” The control cycle continues and, in turn, her children are her dolls. As she comes to understand that to her husband Torvald she has been but a doll to be played with and admired, Nora decides to leave him. So violent is her insight that she exits her hollow, unhappy “doll life” and severs all ties, including contact with her children. Nora now sees that above it all she is a human being, not a wife and a mother. She develops a strong understanding that she needs to get to know who she is and what her ambitions are. Nora’s new purpose in life is pursuing freedom and staying true to herself. The only way she knows to achieve this is by giving up her old life thus cutting all her puppet strings. Sadly, her journey has her realize that she is now alone, still unhappy, and is dying inside.
The actress Aura Hasnas Calarasu gave a powerful performance throughout the hour-long show, which was mostly a monologue. Her solo was tonally rich despite it being almost exclusively in the dark, depression-ridden register. She effectively employed diction and a choppy cadence to create the various degrees of despair, revolt, and even acceptance of her plight. At times, Calarasu’s timbre reached penetrating levels that emphasized the turning points in Nora’s life.
An important component of this interdisciplinary performance was the continuous video projection. There were noir images and time-lapses that at times created a surrealistic atmosphere reminiscent of David Lynch’s movies. Another omnipresent and surrealistic element was Nora’s inner voice, “the doll,” played by singer Catalina Antal. The doll wore an elegant red gown and an oversized, almost grotesque full-head mask of a puppet. She was the image of a human marionette about to break free and also fall apart under the pressure of her newly found self. Through wordless vocalizing, Antal gave voice to Nora’s feelings that she could not express using words.
On the one hand, the performance was one-dimensional as there was only one character present on stage. At the same time, the video projections and the live singer enhanced the unfolding story. The images helped create a cold and painful societal background in which Nora finds herself soul-searching. Pictures of charging canines, menacing crows, arid cacti, and frightening gargoyles tell her thorny journey to self. The performance was wrapped in the dark and oppressing unison created by the acting tone and the choice of imagery.
While there was one character on stage, there were at least three characters within Nora: herself, her wailing doll as her inner discourse, and the voice of her memories and suffering through Torvald’s recorded voice. The music, mostly based on instrumental rock, is evocative at times of industrial rock but also alludes to the surf rock a la Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack. In addition, there are repetitive, drone-like patterns conducive of a meditative state and accented with psychedelic quotes. All of this made for an interesting crossbreed performance.
One shortcoming of the performance was the occasional visual overload caused by the constant video projections, which at times did not quite jive with the story line. As a result, on occasion the focus was deflected from the evolving character on stage.
The acting coupled with the music, the presence of the doll, and the video projections gave a modern version of a sad reality that while times have changed certain things have moved very slowly. In this case, the performance examined the role and place of women in society.
Me. A Doll House
Nov. 19, 2016
Here Arts Center, New York, NY
By Carmen Lidia Vidu, based on Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House”
Stage Direction Carmen Lidia Vidu
Set Design Constantin Ciubotaru
Music Ovidiu Chihaia
Video Cristina Baciu
Mask Design Cristina Mihaela Radulescu
Cast Aura Calarasu and Catalina Antal
foto: Adi Bulboaca