That a play written almost 140 years ago still resonates with today’s audiences is a tremendous credit to the playwright. That its current staging at the Classic Theater kept my attention as well as it did despite my knowing the plot and the resolution, was an accomplishment of the actors and the director who created this new production.
The play, Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” was based on a real-life saga of the playwright’s friend Laura Kieler, the Norwegian-Danish writer whose unhappy marital experience inspired Ibsen to create the character of Nora, the protagonist of “Doll’s House.” The two women, the real-life one and the fictional one, share a societally imposed inability to control their own lives. The play’s early productions in the late 1800s caused quite a stir in one European city after another, inducing a number of producers to modify the story to suit the cultural expectations of the period.
At the center of the action is Nora (Kacey Roye), a seemingly happy, perky woman, married to the controlling, self-centered Torvald Helmer (Nick Lawson) who treats her as his doll and “prize possession.” He delights in her beauty, her costumes and her dancing but doesn’t take her very seriously. At the beginning of the play, both are excited about Torvald’s promotion to bank manager and about the money the position will bring to the family. But their seeming happiness begins to dissolve as blackmail, a forged signature and a desperate former bank employee, Nils Krogstad, enter the picture.
Eventually, Torvald finds out that his wife is being blackmailed because she forged her father’s signature to get a loan, and he proceeds to attack her furiously for bringing shame to the family, only to reverse himself when the threat of further blackmail disappears. Nora, who had borrowed the money to help Torvald recuperate from an illness, expected understanding and compassion. HIs nasty insults make her realize that she must leave her cozy house and forge a new life for herself.
Some see “Doll’s House” as an early feminist manifesto but others interpret it in more general humanistic terms, as an examination of human beings constrained by societal mores to act in certain ways. Though every society imposes some restrictions on individuals, Ibsen was writing about the Norwegian middle class in the late 19th century where women were almost entirely dependent on fathers and husbands, with few opportunities to act as autonomous adults. .
Directed by Kelly Roush, the Classic’s production is completely captivating. You share the characters’ fears, insecurities and pretenses, and end up sympathizing with everyone’s plight. In addition to Roye and Lawson who carry the drama on their capable shoulders, Christina Casella as Nora’s friend Kristine, and Zack Lewis as the desperate blackmailer, come across as real people in real trouble, both genuinely believable. The handsome set by Alfy Valdez frames the disturbing action in a charming Christmas-scene tableau.
If you have never seen “Doll’s House” before and even if you have, you should not miss this show. For times and tickets go to www.classictheatre.org
Photo: Kacey Roye and Nick Lawson