'A Doll's House': Handsome, Flawed

Ibsen's unintentionally proto-feminist "A Doll's House" receives a thoughtful, technically pristine production at Actors Co-op's Crossley Theatre.

Although Ibsen's challenging, frustrating drama certainly does not defeat director Elaine Welton Hill, the production never quite catches fire under her competent but seldom meteoric staging.

Among the play's inherent problems, the most difficult to overcome is a female protagonist so initially cloying that she rankles the sensibilities of a modern-day audience. Talented Rachel Sheppard proves herself equal to Nora's most excessive twitterings. But Sheppard's giggling, empty-headed doll-wife lacks that subtle coloration early on that would make her transition to maturity and knowledge all the more believable. Mark Henderson's Torvald is certainly domineering, but fails to convey the pederastic lasciviousness that makes Torvald's paternalism toward Nora genuinely creepy.

Henderson also did the set, a perfectly cozy little nest from which Nora will ultimately fly. Alan Falkner's lighting is splendid, all mellow lamplight and looming silhouettes. Shon LeBlanc and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes are sumptuous and well rendered. Darrin Degenhardt's original music beautifully sets the mood for this handsome yet flawed production.

* "A Doll's House," Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends March 31. $15. (213) 964-3586. Running time: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

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