Moya O’Connell as Ellida Wangel, Kyle Blair as Mr. Lyngstrandand Andrew Bunker as Professor Arnholm in The Lady from the Sea. Photo by David Cooper
Reviewed by James Karas
The Shaw Festival shows great fidelity to the title of The Lady from the Sea. As the lights go on in the Court House Theatre we see a large rock in the centre of the stage with a naked woman lying on it. Her hair is drenched and she slowly wakes up like a mermaid washed on shore and slowly walks off.
Henrik Ibsen’s play is produced “in a new version by Erin Shields and that is always a cause for concern. A new translation, perhaps, but what is wrong with the original that we need a new version? More of this later.
The lady from the sea is Ellida Wangel (Moya O’Connell), a passionate woman married to Dr Wangel (Ric Reid), a much older man, living in a small town on a fjord in northern Norway. She is a prisoner of the landlocked little town, of her marriage of convenience and of her love for a stranger whom she met some years before. She is drawn to the sea and wants desperately to become free.
O’Connell must convey all of those conflicts and emotions. From appearing as the mermaid in the opening scene to her impassioned encounter with The Stranger (Mark Uhre), she is a woman trapped by her past secret declaration of love, her physical surroundings and her longing to fulfil her raging passion. O’Connell manages to convey much of Ellida’s condition in her fine performance.
Ric Reid as Dr Wangel is decent, confused and willing to do anything for his wife but unable to grasp what is happening until the very end.
Ellida is Dr Wangel’s second wife and he has two daughters from his first marriage, Bollette (Jacqueline Thair) and Hilde (Darcy Gerhart). They are both searching for love, freedom or escape on a minor scale when compared to their stepmother Ellida.
Kyle Blair plays Hans Lyngstrand, a sculptor with health problems who provides a link to The Stranger’s possible criminal past. Andrew Bunker plays Professor Arnholm, who courts Bollette. Neil Barclay has the small role of Ballested, an artist who has no particular role in this version of the play.
The play has five acts and takes place in different parts of Wangel’s garden. One act is set high on a hill with a panoramic view of the fjord. This production has the rock of the opening scene as the basic set with a couple of items added to indicate a change of scenery. It would take a large theatre with an even larger budget to accommodate Ibsen’s stage directions.
Shields has tightened up the play so that is can be done in about ninety minutes without intermission. Director Meg Roe follows suit by maintaining a taut pace and not allowing any unnecessary pauses in the action. A fine job.
The Lady from the Sea is produced infrequently compared to some of Ibsen’s other plays and many times in a “version.” That seems to be the fate of many classics that we admire in name but don’t rush to see in the theatre in their original form. It may simply be a change in tastes.
The result at the Shaw Festival is a fine production and we are grateful to see an Ibsen play even in a “version.” The Shaw Festival has produced only six plays by Ibsen since 1974. That is pretty sad. Shaw was a great admirer if Ibsen and it is ironic that his plays are so roundly ignored.
The Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Erin Shields will run in repertory until September 13, 2015 at the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.