by Jenny Madorsky
Tonight was an important rehearsal. We began by walking through Act I simply to see if we could do our lines without too many breaks. We were then asked to speed it all up to a level where it was “almost too fast.”
As the scenes unfolded, I, as Nora felt myself delve deeper and deeper into a frantic sort of wild energy. At first the energy was directed at playing games with Torvald, and then at telling Mrs. Linde “my Secret.” The more bored she looked, the more frantic I became. At a certain point it didn’t matter at all if she was there in the room with me or not—the story just flowed from my lips as though they were a broken dam.
This momentum was suddenly unwelcomingly interrupted by Mr. Krogstad’s entrance. All of a sudden the stakes entirely changed. We acted out the scene, but somehow it felt that the energy was stifled. I felt a strong sense of pent up…MORE-ness. Clearly Ellen could feel it, too, for she stopped us immediately after the scene and asked us to do it again, with everything at 200%. This couldn’t have been more welcome news. As Ali and I threw around furniture and almost toppled over the couch by both standing on it, the scene suddenly flourished. There were moments of LOUDNESS and intensity, but there were also moments of heightened quietness and immobility. And the MUSIC! At the beginning of the scene Ellen played a piece of music composed for the play (I think called “Jagged”), which suddenly exposed an entirely other canvas on which we could paint with our acting (I’m thinking of Ali’s incredibly creepy centipede movement).
As we neared the end of the scene Ellen urged us to keep going forward with the 200%. After my scene with Krogstad, the energy was at a violent boil inside of my body, so when “my dear Torvald” walked through the door, I wanted to simply throw myself at him the way a 5 year old girl throws herself at her daddy after a terrible fright. Every time I had played this scene with Micheal before, I immediately dropped Nora’s “Krogstad interaction” mask and donned the familiar “playing with Torvald” mask. However, this time the change seemed impossible. All I could feel was an intense desire for a hug and an “everything is ok, dear Nora.” Instead, Torvald proceeds to chastise Nora for lying to him about Krogstad’s visit. Since he doesn’t know anything of her secret, and she can’t tell him, the boiling energy suddenly had no possible outlet. To my own surprise, I felt tears forming in my eyes. As Torvald dives into his bird name-calling and cooing and coaxing, all I could focus on was the deep, deep disappointment that he didn’t behave in the way I really needed him to. I suddenly realized that this scene is not just another “Torvald playing with Nora” scene, but a mirror image (to a smaller degree) of the final scene of the play. Nora expects this huge, “wonderful thing” and instead Torvald lets her fall flat when she depends on him most.
I had never read the scene with that idea and it never even occurred to me to play it this way. However, the 200% gestures really allowed for the energy inside of me to manifest itself externally so that suddenly it was influencing me, instead of the other way around. I know this might sound cheesy and vague, but I was actually surprised by my own reactions. I did not “plan” to cry when Torvald entered, all I was focusing on was changing masks back into “playing with Torvald” but the stakes were so high and the disappointment so tangible that the struggle actually manifested itself in tears. The more I tried to smile and laugh, the more my face scrounged itself up to cry.
It is rehearsals like these that make me hope and pray that we can translate these moments of discovery to the stage during performances. Somehow, the play is much more clear when the actions are at 200%. Though it is not naturalistic, the emotions and psychologies of the characters are so raw that it becomes impossible to escape them even for a moment (though they are talking about “boring bank business”).
I think these revelations actually relate to the play itself and when it was written. At the turn of the century (when A Doll’s House was written) theater itself was changing. Conventions such as unnatural footlights, heavy make up, and melodramatic acting were on the way out and the naturalistic forms of Strindberg, Chekhov, and Stanislavsky were on the rise. Therefore, I think it would be unwise to completely get rid of all the over-dramatic techniques characteristic of theater before these men. Though A Doll’s House does provide actors with three-dimensional characters with complex psyches, it also provides us with a highly dramatic and engaging moment in time that should suck the audience in.
Looking at it now, I cannot believe we have yet to do any actual blocking. I, personally, feel like I have a very strong understanding of Act I, as well as a sense that there is yet much to discover about this fascinating and intricate play. Now on to Act II…
It seems strange to respond to this post as the events it describes are so far in the past, but I think, after first dress, there’s actually a similar dynamic that I saw in last night’s run. The particular clashes of energy that come in Act 2 — Torvald sending the dismissal letter, your misadventure with Dr. Rank, your 2nd scene w/Krogstad, and the Tarantella practice — these four moments catapult Nora through an array of emotions and strategies. I was struck last night by how much she’s having to play things by ear, decide in the very moment how she’s going to act and then be willing to drop that act for another if things don’t go her way.
I had this thought during your scene w/Krogstad when he first inquires about suicide: is Nora playing him, acting distraught at the hope that he would back off? Then a bit later in the scene when you insist you “have the courage now” is that a moment of authentic desperation and commitment to death as a choice. Same thing with Rank, whether the stumbling around about “asking you now … about a large token of your friendship …” doesn’t start off as manipulation but, as soon as he says “sacrifice his life for you,” that entire plan is dashed. He’s made the gesture meaningful in a way you’d not intended and, as such, it is jettisoned as a way to solve your problem. And as I thought of those moments and looking at your post about Act 1, how/does the 200% gestural world help you as an actor make a distinction between Nora when she is consciously performing and Nora when she’s got to switch gears, when her mask slips, and she’s not quite sure what to do?
We’ve talked about the precision of Ibsen’s structure — Act 1 is set-up/laying the groudwork, Act 2 is trying to stave off implosion, Act 3 is revelation and revolution — Act 2 seems to be the most difficult specifically for Nora. I keep thinking of a plate spinner who has to keep jumping around to maintain the balance of fragile cargo. With all the addition of the costumes, props, and scenographic details it can feel a lot like you’ve got a whole plate balancing thing going on just as an actor. The key, especially for you since Nora bears so much of this play on her shoulders, is finding out how you can make the space *yours* as an actor in order to make it “chaotic” for Nora. Does that make sense? I know you all will find it. All these details are things to feed the choices you are actively making each night, in each moment. I’m so excited to see (pardon if I channel Torvald) the show-bird fly.