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THEATER REVIEW 'CASA DE MUNECAS' : Resetting the Stage : Santa Paula Theater does Ibsen justice with its well-crafted, Spanish-language adaptation of 'A Doll's House.'

February 20, 1992|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nora Helmer, the wife-heroine of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," spends three hours and as many acts hoping for a miracle. But the real miracle is the Santa Paula Theater Center's decision to make such a well-executed production of a classic work of Western European theater accessible to the county's Spanish-speaking community. And with enough public interest, the center also plans to tackle classic Hispanic works.

To some directors, the task of mounting a Spanish-language production of a classic play might be a daunting prospect. But given only seven weeks, director Armando Garcia wisely chose a translation not an adaptation. He did not Hispanicize the setting of Kristiania (today's Oslo) or references to late 19th-Century, middle-class Norwegian life.

And the only concession to language is a final "o" on the end of Torvald, making it easier for Nora to pronounce her husband's name.

The play's thematic concerns, including paternalism, honor and reputation, already permeate Hispanic literature. Yet these universal issues also transcend the setting and even the century. Secrets and blackmail are still powerful motives for human conflict. And the central themes of marriage and a woman's status are relevant today.

But despite the play's compelling story and dialogue, today's audiences might find it difficult to appreciate the uproar that Ibsen's "play about modern life" caused when first produced at the Theatre Royal Copenhagen in 1879.

The sensibilities of audiences in Germany at the time were so offended by the theme of a woman's independence that Ibsen was forced to write a more palatable ending before "A Doll's House" could be produced there.

"Casa de Munecas" occupies a single set--the Helmers' parlor-- "a comfortable room, furnished inexpensively, but with taste." And Ibsen, known as "the great realist," aimed at creating realistic dialogue.

But the variety of accents among the native Spanish-speaking cast, and their polished use of stage business, keeps the play from becoming just "talking heads."

Garcia's adept direction keeps the well-paced action from becoming turgid, especially in the last act, where a particularly superfluous scene with the children has been eliminated altogether. And the actors avoid an oppressive tone by keeping comedic exchanges nicely in play like a well-orchestrated volleyball match.

Pat Casiano is well cast as Nora, Torvaldo's "little scatter-brained wife." And she achieves a convincing transformation at the play's denouement. Marcus Clayton is a perfect Torvaldo, Nora's patronizing, self-absorbed spouse.

Marta Garza and Armando Ramirez provide strong support and exposition as Cristina Linde and Dr. Rank. And Francisco J. Barajas is almost too unsympathetic as Krogstad, the man who threatens to destroy the Helmers' happiness.

Moreover, the spectator's visual sense is delighted by Frances Erwin's costumes. And William Orcutt has decorated Martin Bookwalter's set with an engaging display of Victoriana, including an evocative crocheted, ecru tablecloth.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"A Doll's House" continues through March 8 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St. Performances of the English-language version are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets to English-language performances are $12.50, $11 for students and senior citizens. The Spanish-language version, "Casa de Munecas," stars Pat Casiano and Marcus Clayton and plays Saturday afternoons at 2:30, Sunday evenings at 7. Tickets for the Spanish-language version are $7 or two for $10. Group rates are available for all performances. For reservations or information, call 525-4645.

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