Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let's Talk About Ibsen

In yesterday's blog entry, I wrote about seeing Donmar Warehouse's production of The Lady From the Sea by Henrik Ibsen. It was a new version by Elinor Cook, and I have mixed feelings about the adaptation.

First off, The Lady From the Sea is one of my favorite plays, but I have only seen it staged in loose adaptations. I give Cook credit for keeping in the brilliant subplot in which the title character's stepdaughter Boletta wrestles with her attraction to her former tutor, Arnholm. In the end, though, Cook normalizes their relationship, instead of taking it to the extremes imagined by Ibsen.

Boletta is an exceptionally bright young woman who needs to leave her provincial hometown, but feels bound to stay with her father. Arnholm offers her a helping hand, but he cares for her as more than just a former teacher. She at first hesitates to accept his help, until he offers it unconditionally, whether she loves him or not. Granted the full freedom to go or stay, to marry him or remain single, she chooses--

And here's where Cook departs slightly from the original. In her version, Boletta offers her suitor a sprig of hope, but doesn't fully commit to him. The half-measure seems rational, but eliminates much of the romance in the original. It's a bit like Cook's decision to take away the supernatural overtones of the mysterious sailor who returns for the title character, Ellida, after many years.

Ellida's great mistake was to swear fidelity to that sailor in her youth, when the two cast their rings into the sea. Fortunately she's learned her lesson now, and would never, ever do something like that again.

Wait, WAIT! What is this adaption having her do in the last scene? NO!


Maybe someday I'll get to see the play the way Ibsen actually wrote it, but I probably shouldn't hold my breath.