The Quotidian Theatre Company's adaptation of "A Doll's House" turns on an interesting conceit: It transports Henrik Ibsen's proto-feminist classic from 1879 Norway to 1918 Galveston, Tex. But it's hardly worth the trip: Whether it's the Gulf of Mexico or the fiords of Scandinavia beyond the parlor doors, the proof is in the playing, and on this point, Quotidian falls painfully short.
In his program notes, director-adapter Jack Sbarbori says his "reverent modification" of the play restores some of Ibsen's own cuts and deletes long soliloquies that "present a severe obstacle to an understated interpretation." None of these changes, however, resolves the larger problem of a play that relies so heavily on contrivance to tell its story.
Sbarbori's "Doll's House" faithfully tracks Ibsen's three-act structure, down to the clumsy exposition of the first act, when the play's heroine, here named Nola, confesses an indiscretion to a woman she hasn't seen in 15 years. The impetuous Nola is married to a moralistic banker, renamed Wesley, who would take a dim view of her borrowing money, particularly through fraudulent means. But years before, in desperation, Nola did just that. Now the villainous moneylender has returned, threatening to reveal her secret if she fails to seek favors for him from Wesley.
Challenging fare for experienced actors, this "Doll's House" is marred by amateurish performances that bring little depth to Ibsen's characters. Sbarbori's apparent bid to sidestep the melodrama through understatement manages only to expose the underpinnings of Ibsen's 19th-century story structure. And while Quotidian pays proper homage to Ibsen's naturalism with ample antique furnishings and lush period costumes, in the absence of any insightful exploration of text, such attention to surface detail renders the whole exercise more fashion show than drama.
A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen. Adapted and directed by Jack Sbarbori. With Stephanie Mumford, John Decker, Steve LaRocque, Erika Imhoof (alternating with Cody Jones), Nick Sampson, Sharon Dodd. Lights, Don Slater; costumes, Stephanie Mumford; set and sound, J-L Cavaille-Coll. Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company, through Dec. 8 at the Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Call 301-816-1023.