A Great Opening Night Review of “A Doll’s House”

A Dolls House Review by Muriel Smith
It’s got 19th century charm and 21st century talent, making “A Doll’s House” an absolute winner on stage at Center Playhouse, 35 South Street, Freehold. The two act play opened Friday night and continues through August, 9th. Tickets and information are available at http://www.centerplayers.org or by calling 732-462-9093.
They take on some pretty impressive challenges in their little theater on South Street, and this play is no exception.
A Doll’s House, written in the 19th century by Henrik Ibsen, was controversial at the time and remains controversial in the 21st century, for the very same reasons. It’s the story of a married couple at Christmas in the 1880s and the controversy focuses on whether a wife should be subservient to her husband, whether the end justifies the means when it comes to breaking the law, and whether any of us should be making decisions that impact other’s very lives.
Sounds deep, serious and formidable? It is. But given the outstanding cast and wonderful direction of the play at Center Playhouse, it’s wonderful, mesmerizing, captivating, and profound. The opening night audience remained spell bound from opening act to final curtain, breaking into applause only after taking a couple of deep breaths and lamenting it was over.
One of the charms of Center Playhouse is the fact that serious, experienced and award winning actors blend their talents and love of theater with newcomers, children, and playgoers themselves, and the result is sheer entertainment. Lauren Foxworth, for instance, who plays Nora Helmer, the wife who acts like she really does live in a charmed Doll House, has only been on stage in Freehold once before. But she’s appeared in a number of other community theater roles, including parts in The Taming of the Shrew, and Bell, Book and Candle. When she’s not on stage, she’s a professor at SUNY, conducting educational research and teaching preservice teachers. As Nora, she’s impeccable, commanding, driven.
So is Tom Shewchuk, who plays her husband, Torvald, a first timer to Center Playhouse, but hopefully a returning actor for many plays to come. He comes off as the arrogant, domineering husband with ideas and convictions a 21st century audience finds almost laughable.
The pair are more than ably supported by a cast that includes David Clarke, who Center Players’ patrons will remember as the wonderful Dr. Lyman in Bus Stop, John Devennie, another first timer at Center Playhouse, but an Excellence in Acting award winner at the NJTL One Act play competition a few years back and a two-time recipient of the Burlington Footlights Best Supporting Actor award; Devennie’s facial expressions, nods, grimaces, and attention to every detail are professionalism at its best.
Jill Zaitchick is magnificent as Nora’s friend and dominates some scenes with her 30 years experience on stage… she was the First Witch in the Stone Church Players’ production of Macbeth recently in Middletown, where she lives. She adds experience and wisdom to her role of Christine.
Smaller, but no less perfect roles are played by Phyllis Engelman, who’s been here before, and Roberta Fallon, a charmer who’s generally back stage doing everything that needs to be done in a small theater, but taking on a new challenge as an actress. She’s met her challenge extremely well and hopefully will continue to take on other roles in the future. Fallon is following her husband, Sheldon, in taking on new challenges for the sheer joy of it. He made his acting debut in Bus Stop, at the Playhouse, and was resplendent in full butler’s outfit escorting theatergoers to their seats on opening night of A Doll’s House.
The children in the play, Abby Leff and Erica Cuautle Perez are adorable and regrettable that they’re on stage for such short scenes.
Center Players Artistic Director Bernie Garfield-Szita excelled once again in directing this classic masterpiece, no surprise given her nearly half a century in the Arts and Community Theater. As in every other play she’s directed at Center Playhouse, Garfield-Szita’s husband, Bob Szita, produced the play and once again showed that this dynamic artistic couple love both the theater and the pleasure they’re able to bring to the audience.
The play is presented weekends for the remainder of July through August 9th, and you can get tickets, even selecting your seat, online by going to http://www.centerplayers.org or by calling 732-462-9093. Plan on making a reservation, come early and take advantage of their dinner and a show offer, or visit any of the other great restaurants in Freehold and make it a night worth remembering.
Muriel Smith is a guest reviewer for Center Players. She grew up in Union, NJ and lived in Highlands for more than 40 years, working as a newspaper writer/editor before leaving home with her husband 15 years ago to live in an RV and visit every state in the Union before determining that Monmouth County is still the best place to live. She’s now settled comfortably in Freehold.



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