— Production poster
A Doll’s House may be the most important play of the past 200 years. If it’s not the most important, it’s surely the most influential. It marks the beginning, if not the invention, of modern drama and theatrical realism, the establishment of the family and the family home as the microcosm of society at large and the crucible for social investigation and change. Ibsen is the father of us all.
A Doll’s House is also a potent feminist statement, which is the major reason for reviving it in 2015. Much of Ibsen’s dramatic structure, characterization and dialogue creaks along with vestiges of the melodrama he was consciously rejecting. But when Nora has her revelation at the end, announcing her decision to leave her husband and children to try to make of herself an educated, fully adult human being after a lifetime of being treated like a doll by her father and husband, it still feels like an earthquake, a revolution. Nora’s situation ought to seem as contemporary as the niqab debate or the weird American arguments over Planned Parenthood.
This Equity Co-op production from the Slamming Door Artist Collective succeeds in most respects. Director Tamara McCarthy stages the play in the round with four spinning doorways, suggesting some of the futile circularity of Nora Helmer’s comfortable middle class life. But without walls and the heavy Victorian-era furnishings that Ibsen’s stage directions call for, Sarah Mabberley’s spacious design lacks the claustrophobic quality that a more cramped realist box set could provide.
Genevieve Fleming as Nora heads a strong cast. Fleming’s Nora is like a nine-year-old in her blithe unselfconsciousness, but she also clearly shows us the side of Nora that has learned survival skills. The manipulations of a doll-wife pale in the face of the traumas that Nora’s old friend Mrs. Linden has had to bear, and Corina Akeson comes on like a woman who has had the life drained out of her, only to revive at the end when she allows herself and the fallen Krogstad another chance. Ashley O’Connor gives Krogstad a convincing air of quiet desperation. Sebastian Kroon provides a modicum of dark comic relief as the fatally ill but lovestruck Dr. Rank.
Nora’s husband Torvald is the play’s most difficult role because he is written as such a one-dimensional prig. Shaker Paleja sometimes seems handcuffed by Torvald, especially in his more formal moments, and he ultimately can’t escape the archaic early 20th century English translation by William Archer, which the other actors, especially Fleming, sometimes manage to make sound almost colloquial.
I think it’s a huge mistake for any contemporary company to use this translation, even if it is out of copyright and therefore royalty-free. The “shalls,” especially—“you shall see how I shall look,” “what fun we shall have”—and expressions like “I daresay” make this sound like a stuffy museum piece. The actors have to struggle against their own dialogue to give the story the freshness it needs to be effective.
One final complaint. Those revolving doors are pretty but I’m still waiting for the most famous sound effect in modern drama, the very note that gives this company its name, to put a final exclamation mark on Nora’s revolutionary exit.