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Wednesday, April 25 News

'Nora' at Westport Playhouse: Quintessential role for actresses explores women's roles in life

From the traumatized witness to cannibalism in "Suddenly Last Summer" to the possibly homicidal nurse in "Loot," Liv Rooth has displayed dazzling versatility at the Westport Country Playhouse in recent seasons.

Add her TheaterWorks Hartford performance as the sexually manipulative actress in "Venus in Fur" to that mix and you have a rising stage star who keeps challenging herself as she surprises Connecticut theatergoers.

Rooth is returning to the Westport Country Playhouse as the housewife-turned-feminist in "Nora," Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of "A Doll's House," and said she is thrilled and a bit scared to be tackling one of the most demanding roles in the theater.

"When (director) David (Kennedy) asked me to do it late last summer, I made a terrible face. Most actresses want to do it, but I think I was afraid of it," Rooth said in a recent phone interview.

"Nora" starts performances Tuesday.

More Information

Tuesday, July 15-Saturday, Aug. 2
Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court.
$70-$50. 203-227-4177

"It's a tough one because it's easy to go in so many different directions," the actress said of bringing to life the circumstances that cause a rather meek young wife to wind up slamming the door in her husband's face in the play's legendary final scene.

The Henrik Ibsen play premiered in 1879, but it has never gone out of style. The questions it raises about male-female relationships and a woman's "place" in a family have resonated with audiences and theater artists for 135 years.

Rooth is following in the footsteps of such celebrated actresses as Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Claire Bloom and Jane Fonda. (Even Joan Crawford took a shot at the role in a radio production.) A few years ago, Long Wharf Theatre artistic director Gordon Edelstein presented a controversial modern-day adaptation that moved Ibsen's story and characters to the Connecticut suburbs.

"You're onstage almost the entire time -- except for a few minutes," Rooth said of playing Nora. "And this adaptation rushes along with an intensity that is very exciting but very difficult."

Just as many actors believe you have to play Hamlet more than once to explore that mysterious character, Rooth already anticipates wanting to have another go at this Ibsen piece when "Nora" closes Aug. 2. "I feel that way very strongly about `Venus in Fur,' too. I would love to do that play again. ... I still think about it; some of the things I never explored.

"I keep thinking that we need more time, but we have the time that we have," Rooth said of the work she has been doing on "Nora" in rehearsal with Kennedy.

The performer is constantly amazed by the fact that a man created this landmark feminist play.

"It is really incredible what he wrote and the part he created for a woman. It's one of those great characters that you can take apart in so many different ways."

Rooth believes the combination of Ibsen and Bergman is especially potent. Although the late Swedish writer-director is best known for such films as "The Seventh Seal" and "Scenes from a Marriage," he also kept returning to the theater throughout his movie career.

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"I think he is so fitting for the world of this play," Rooth said of Bergman's version. "He punches up things that are really hard and ugly about the play."

Despite her anxiety, the actress is very happy to be pushed out of her comfort zone by a great play.

"It is so important as an actor to bring yourself to the work, but not limit the work to you," Rooth said. "It's kind of interesting to interact with your fears and doubts. I think that's important and that it makes you better."