A doll is a beautiful object, at the disposal of its owner in order to be played with, or tossed aside at his or her will. A doll’s house is its residence, often adorned with beautiful objects and clothes to which the doll is dressed up as according to the will of its owner.
These sentences must be obvious to the reader in terms of the literal sense of a childhood plaything; however, if we bring the context of the doll to the Victorian woman, one can see the plethora of similarities. Women were society’s dolls, first owned by their fathers, then by their husbands, and used only for their looks or sexuality rather than as equal companions in marriage. They were confined to their husbands’ life as a doll is to her house.
This is exactly what 19th century Norwegian Henrik Ibsen portrays in his play, “A Doll’s House.” The play tells the story of a wife, Nora Helmer, who is dismissed as a flighty, beautiful songbird who can never comprehend the hardships of life. Her husband Torvald treats her as an object in which he controls her money, her diet and even her happiness; however, he is completely unaware that his Nora was responsible for saving him from death through borrowing money in her own name, without consultation from her husband.
As Torvald discovers the secret, Nora sees a different side of her husband, which makes her realize she must leave her house, her family and her comfortable life in order to discover what she is truly capable of.
A considerably difficult show for any theater group to fully pull off, The Old Globe theater in San Diego did an excellent job of adding a fresh perspective to the classic Ibsen play through a new translation by former Ibsen Society of America board member, Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey.
The character of Nora is difficult to play; there is a level of depth that cannot be revealed immediately, but must be slowly peeled away throughout the play to exemplify a songbird that does more than just sing, but also nurtures, cares and loves.
Gretchen Hall as Nora Helmer was magnificent: she holds the audience in the palm of her hand, appropriately acting flighty in the beginning, gaining strength throughout the play and leaving her oppressive house in the end as a confident woman. Hall’s portrayal was nothing less than exquisite.
Fred Arsenault as Torvald Helmer also was a great addition to the show. He was not overbearing, nor entirely too cruel to Nora, but exemplified enough masochist beliefs for the audience to somewhat laugh at his backwards beliefs.
The supporting cast was wonderful too, with each performer exhibiting a variety of emotions that added to the overall goal of the play. Each member exhibited energy throughout the show, which did not detract from Nora’s journey.
The most interesting, as well as most silent, part of the play was the wonderful set. Designed in a theater-in-the-round format, the audience surrounded the actors in an arena style, so there were chances to observe the play from every angle. This added to the complexity of the doll’s house, forcing the audience to peer into the object’s private-turned-public life. A subtle yet appropriate choice by director Kirsten Brandt, observing Nora from every angle was one of the most enjoyable parts of the show.
All in all, “A Doll’s House” had very few issues. One of my only problems with the production was the lack of energy in the last scene, in which both Nora and Torvald said their goodbyes in a somewhat monotone exchange. However, I’m purely nitpicking; the performance was one of the best productions I have seen this year. The acting was spectacular, the set was refreshing, and the overall message was not represented in an overdone manner, but instead exciting.
“A Doll’s House” conveyed a message that has often been forgotten in this modern egalitarian society; yet it is important to remember that even the most innocent of beings possess a strength that should never be taken for granted.