The Lady from the Sea

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The Donmar Warehouse Theatre is always into political themes and “The Lady from the Sea,” a late Henrik Ibsen play is no exception. The action is moved from the icy fijords of Norway, to an unnamed Caribbean Island and the protagonists are colonial island dwellers. There is the constant theme of the sea as a source of liberty as well as incarceration. Ellida the Afro-Caribbean wife is suffering from a personal and marital crisis. Her husband, Dr. Wangel, does not quite understand what she is banging on about. Turns out it is personal freedom, the freedom to choose her own path and become a full adult. She is somewhat infantilised by her marriage and suffers from a sense of lost purpose. The sea in which she swims daily symbolises a kind of freedom, but again a sense of limits. Should she leave her husband for a sailor lover of the past who has haunted her for years and reappears in her life, or remain? How does she reconcile this intense sense of frustration and weakness? Her most powerful line in the play is I JUST WANT TO BE SEEN, in other words, acknowledged.

Her stepdaughters too have the same questions. Should they explore the possibilities of freedom, sexual knowledge, formal education, travel afar, growing up or remain forever on their constricted island paradise? In that Henrik Ibsen was an explorer himself, of the social mores of 19th Century life, we find the updated play to cover many feminist concerns. However, there are some themes in the current translation that ring a bit inconsistent with today’s realities.

Afterall in our 21st Century war between the genders, the overall value system has changed dramatically. Women are no longer chattels. Graduate school enrolments are fifty percent women. Women control their own bank accounts and participate fully in the public domain. But this is a play about Power, and as we see in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the balance is still a bit uneven.

The pace of the play was uneven too, but the performances were sincere and thoughtful. I wasn’t mad about it, but upon reflection, there was plenty of food for thought about where we were and where we are going.

Three stars for thoughtful effort.

Kaaren Hale

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