TITUSVILLE — There’s something rare in the small Emma’s Attic, Titusville Playhouse’s alternative space. It comes in the form of “The Woman from the Sea,” written by Spence Porter and based heavily on Henrik Ibsen’s 1888 “The Lady from the Sea.”
Here, Porter places the story in the late 1950s, when polite company didn’t speak truth. They hem and haw in dialogue, barely able to blurt out a “don’t leave.” It takes place in the garden at the home of Dr. Erland Wangel (Ryan Neff), who lives high above a Norwegian fjord. Also living with him are his two daughters from his first wife (we never find out what happened to her) and his second wife, Ellida (Erin Guthrie Parker).
We learn almost immediately that Ellida likes to take long swims in the sea. Add that to an artist painting a half-dead mermaid and we start to sense a metaphor brewing. But there’s much more. This day, a strange foreboding stalks Ellida. She feels as if something from her past is reaching through misty time to take hold of her.
Her only antidote is volition.
The deep current in “The Woman from the Sea” reveals recurring themes informing much of Ibsen’s plays, most notably “A Doll’s House” (Nora feels caged in the beautiful home in which her husband, Torvald, keeps her) and “Hedda Gabler” (Hedda marries, well, beneath her). There is also Ibsen’s fascination with people being haunted by the past, as in “Ghosts” — which, by the way, makes valid our desire to know what happened to Dr. Wangel’s first wife.
A particularly resonating scene comes between young Bolette Wangel (Nicole Morgan) and her older, former tutor Daniel Arnold (Jason Eaton). She agrees to marry Arnold, who has come into a fortune. She sees marriage as a way to leave and be free of her humdrum life on the fjord. The question: Could this be yet another young woman about to take a misstep?
Like she did with “Pillowman” at Surfside Playhouse, director Janet Bentley-Hallberg certainly has brought the local theater community something never seen before on Brevard stages. Although the language and contained acting style is a far reach for most of her cast, the actors tackle their roles and the play’s lofty language with serious intent.
Kudos to Steven Heron as the flamboyant artist/musician/hairstylist. He takes great liberty with his role and infuses the production with comic relief, surely much needed in this land of the midnight sun.