Anne-Marie the Nanny (Susan Brogdon), Nora (Kacey Roye), and children Oliver Roush and Crispin Provencher. Below: Henrik Ibsen late in life.
November 7, 2017
Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House was extremely controversial when it premiered in Copenhagen in 1879, and, to some extent, remains so. The story deals with a marriage held together by flimsy bindings – essentially a controlling, narcissistic, penny-pinching husband married to a wife who has become so subordinate that she has lost herself – until something happens that shocks her into seeing the truth and leaving him.
Revolutionary for its style, touchy subject matter and treatment of dialogue, it was perhaps the foremost of the many scripts that caused Ibsen to be regarded as the father of modern play-writing.
The Classic Theatre continued its tenth
season with a generally fluent, resonant
version of the piece (the 1996 adaptation by
Irish writer Frank McGuinness, best known
for the screenplay of the 2005 film Dancing
at Lughnasa), judiciously directed by Kelly Roush. The original was set at Christmastime in a vague Danish location; Ms. Roush sets the action somewhere in the United States in the 1950s, to judge from the decor and costumes. Additional performances are certain to smooth out any minor bumps – mostly relating to realistic interaction and chemistry – seen on opening weekend.
The plum role of Nora Helmer is given a
beautifully nuanced account by Kacey Roye.
Onstage virtually all the time, she acts pert
and girlish around her husband, Torwald
(masterfully played by Nick Lawson), who
treats her like a child and whose thoughtless
put-downs are convincing enough to annoy
even the most non-feminist play-goer. But
when she is not around him, she is sober and
feeling desperate because, as she tells her
friend Kristine (Christina Casella), she has a
secret. Several years ago, she forged her late
father's signature on a loan application in
order to get money to take her very ill
husband on a European trip for his health on
doctor's orders. She is convinced it saved his life. It should be noted that a married woman by law could not take out a loan without her husband's consent.
She has almost repaid the loan by scrimping and using part of her allowance. Torvald has been given a promotion to bank manager and she is hopeful that their money problems are over. Theirs, but not hers. Enter Nils Krogstad (the excellent Zach Lewis), who handled the questionable loan, has been fired from his job at the bank, and has decided to blackmail Nora into making Torwald re-hire him.
When Torwald refuses because he has hired someone else (Kristine – hmm, what a coincidence), Nils tells Nora he has sent a letter to Torwald outlining the details of the loan. There it sits in yon locked mailbox and she has no key. Now, Nora is feeling completely desperate. Torwald reads the letter and reacts in a blind fury. He has always called her silly childish names as if he genuinely believed she could not make adult decisions on her own. This time he unleashes a torrent of selfish verbal abuse, insisting that his life will be ruined because of her, that they are finished, that she cannot see their three children, etc. With every hateful word, Ms. Roye visibly grows stronger and more painfully aware of the sham she has been living with this man.
Opening weekend, incidentally, that scene was not as powerful as it might have been, primarily because Mr. Lawson seemed merely angry, instead of being screamingly, irrationally infuriated.
On the heels of the first letter, a second arrives, containing the original copy of the loan contract, as if it has been completely repaid. Nils has relented and there will be no publicity about the loan. There follow two remarkable scenes: Torwald apologizes for his words, says he forgives Nora (!) and insists that he understands her womanly helplessness and that he will guide and direct her.
Then comes the finale, when Nora tells him just what she thinks (and she can, after all, think). He revealed himself, and now so does she, as one who can no longer pretend and needs to find out just who she is. What's more, she admits to not loving him any longer. And so she leaves.
John Boyd is sympathetic yet surprisingly cheerful as the Helmer's longtime friend, Dr. Kant, who secretly loves Nora, but suffers from a terminal illness. The cast is rounded out by Susan Brogdon as the Nanny, Jasmine Jackson as the maid and youngsters Oliver Roush and Crispin Provencher as the Helmers' children.
The handsome set by Alfy Valdez is brimming with details. A kudos to Josi Karjala's appealing costumes, complete with '50s crinolines, to Rick Malone's soundscape and to Kaitlin Muse's well-considered lighting.
A Doll's House runs through Nov. 26 at The Classic Theatre, 1924 Fredericksburg Rd. Call 589-8450.
P.S. Ibsen is said to have noted that women can't be themselves in an "exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.” The play's inspiration, incidentally, came from a personal experience with Laura Kieler, a close married friend who did forge her signature on a loan to pay for her husband's medical expenses. When he found out about it, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Eventually she returned to her family, and became a successful writer, but was known for years as “Ibsen's Nora.”
Classic Theatre /A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen
Nora (Casey Roye) and Torvald (Nick Lawson) in seeming marital bliss. The Classic Theatre staging of Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ moves the action to the United States in the 1950s.
Production photos by Siggi Ragnar