-- Heather Wisner

A Woman Under the Influence
Nora. By Ingmar Bergman. Directed by Joy Carlin. Starring Nancy Carlin, Julian López-Morillas, Amy Potozkin, Charles Shaw Robinson, and Paul Sulzman. Presented by the Aurora Theater Company at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, through March 1. Call (510) 843-4822.

Going to see Ingmar Bergman's play Nora is really no different from going to see A Doll's House, except that the seating will probably be cramped: The Bergman adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece is ideal for a tiny theater. It focuses, laserlike, on Nora, the uppity Norwegian wife who leaves her conventional banker husband because their conventional marriage chafes. Bergman has trimmed away some of A Doll's House's flash -- Nora's kids are gone; so are some details about the other characters -- but every line pertaining to her is there, which means most of the original play. Bergman quit moviemaking long ago and now writes for his own theater in Munich; Nora has never been filmed.

The story starts with Nora acting like a giddy, dollish wife, preparing for a Christmas party. Torvald is her stolid husband, proud of his good reputation in society and his new position at the bank. He doesn't know, yet, that Nora once borrowed money to keep him from dying when he was sick and poor; in fact she still owes something to a wretched bank clerk named Krogstad, who works for Torvald. The borrowed money is a threat to Torvald's position, and when the secret unravels, Nora learns a few ugly facts about both Torvald and their comfortable existence. Their marriage was perfectly typical in Norway around 1879 (when A Doll's House premiered); the ugly facts exposed by Ibsen caused social shudders that echoed for decades -- right through the American women's movement in the '60s -- and frankly haven't stopped. Torvald and Nora are not just social archetypes, but shadows of the soul.

The Aurora Theater Company does them full justice. The show is well-cast and well-acted. Charles Shaw Robinson is an excellent Krogstad, ugly and wormlike with his slicked, thin hair and wire glasses, crimping his face when he threatens Nora; Nancy Carlin inhabits the full range of Nora's feelings -- suicidal to giddy -- in a strong, bright voice; Paul Sulzman is appropriately stolid and dorky as Torvald. The show doesn't have an emotional punch -- it doesn't hit you below the chest, like ACT's Streetcar did -- but I'm not sure Ibsen ever does; mental rigor was more important to him than heart. It's just an able and nicely shaded version of a great story, performed in a tiny stone chamber at the Berkeley City Club. The Aurora Theater Company has been the most consistent group of players I've seen this season, managing to enliven shamelessly literary material like Shaw's first play and George Sand's letters to Flaubert. Nora is no exception. This may not be an endorsement, but Francis Ford Coppola even turned up at one of the shows last week.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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