By virtue of its name, Stolen Shakespeare Guild is a classics company, making its mark by taking on the Willy Shakes canon, both with popular and less-commonly produced plays, and even plays from other playwrights of that era.
The company has also had a series of American classics, continues to discover musicals old and new, and has a devotion to Regency novelist Jane Austen.
It has also become stronger and more consistent in recent years, perhaps reason enough to take on a new series of world classics not by Shakespeare. For its first Classics Fest, SSG tackles the best-known plays by two of classic world literature’s giants, Moliere and Henrik Ibsen, with Tartuffe and A Doll’s House running in repertory. The group’s excellent Tartuffe has already been reviewed by the Star-Telegram, and its outing with Ibsen is as accomplished.
Those plays are very different in style, and of course Tartuffe is stylistically closer to the Shakespeare productions on which SSG has built its rep. A Doll’s House, by realism father Ibsen, is the forerunner of many of the American classics the group has staged.
Sharon Benge directs a straightforward production, in an adaptation by Irish writer Frank McGuinness, of a play that presents two sides of relationships in 1880 Norway.
Even Christmastime there isn’t as cold as the marriage between Nora (Lauren Morgan) and Torvald (Richard Stubblefield), her childless and looking for purpose beyond being pretty.
Their union is in contrast to what could be between Nora’s friend Mrs. Linde (Julie Rhodes) and Krogstad (Andrew Manning). He’s rather unlikeable, but he and Mrs. Linde end on a happier note than the eventuality of Torvald and Nora, who makes a bold decision about her future.
The performances are strong, with Rhodes and Stubblefield notable in their complexity. Morgan’s natural cheeriness of voice works for the complicated Nora, who is coquettish and makes a slow, subtle journey throughout the play — ending with that brave final action. Best of all is Michael Johnson, in a thoughtful and quietly devastating performance as family friend Dr. Rank, who makes Nora happy in unexpected ways.
Lauren Morgan runs SSG with her husband, Jason, and for both shows, she designed the costumes (terrific) and he the set. The scenic design had to be created with both productions in mind, but it looks better in Tartuffe — although the distracting gaps between wall panels in A Doll’s House kind of work as a metaphor for the unstable relationship in the title structure.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild has built a house with a solid foundation, just as Ibsen did for much of the dramatic realism that would follow. More non-Shakespeare classics from this group will be welcome.