Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” in a Detour production directed by Terence Hartnett is the latest feature in the Bloomington Area Arts Council’s Performance Series at the Waldron.
“A Doll’s House” is one of the touchstone plays of modern theatre history. One commentator wrote that when at the play’s end, the young wife Nora abandons her husband and children, “the door slam shook all of Europe.” Terence Hartnett’s direction, is clearly deeply thought through and well executed the production features some outstanding acting.. The choice to place the play in the conservative America of the 1950s doesn’t add to the play, but it doesn’t detract either.
In “A Doll’s House” Ibsen was introducing radically new themes, but he was both using and fighting the traditional neatness of the “well made play.”The play was part of Ibsen’s own learning about how to dramatize his themes and it shows. The overall structure is a bit mechanical. The tying up of all the loose ends seems contrived. The play is slower to develop than the drama we’ve become used to. “A Doll’s House” is a classic but it is an Oldsmobile not a Corvette.
Stephanie Harrison did a fine job with the daunting role of Nora, the young wife. Nora begins as the doll of “A Doll’s House,” her husband’s skylark, squirrel and fritter. Nora next must desperately use all of her resources to prevent the revelations that will destroy the house. By the final act Nora has to ready herself for the end. She’s a woman who’s own life and character seem meaningless.
Mike Price does more with Nora’s husband Torvald than I had imagined possible. His Torvald is a stuffed shirt and he does treat Nora as his silly doll child. But Price actually finds some almost boyish enthusiasm in Torvald’s love for Nora. At the same time his Torvald is so certain of his role, so sure in his masculine power that as the inevitable sequence of events hurries to disaster the irony builds right along with it. Torvald is no Oedipus Rex, but Price comes close to making Torvald a tragic figure.
The supporting cast was very strong. Joe Gaines was gentile, warm and sad as the family friend Dr. Rank. Kris Lee oozed ratlike malice as the money lender Nils Krogstad. Amanda Scherle was totally believable as Nora’s old friend, battered by a hard life. Scherle almost pulled off the quick change from opponent of Krogstad to missionary for him that Ibsen forces on her character. Cameron Butler and Ryan Butler played the children. They were audience favorites as Ivan professionally delivered his lines and Ryan delightedly jumped when he could instead of walking.
Director and designer Terence Hartnett kept us continually aware of the distance between his characters. Torvald’s study and Nora’s kitchen are on opposite sides of the stage. Frequently they talk to one another across this space. In a couple of dramatic speeches to Norah she was close to the speaker but steadfastly looking away. Characters do come to intimate distances face to face, but these scenes simply accent and remind us of how far apart they usually are. The key moment in any production of “A Doll’s House” is how Nora leaves her home. Sometimes the door slams on an angry Norah, sometimes even on a joyful one. The Detour Productions’ Nora was determined, serious and perhaps a little frightened. She left quietly.
“A Doll’s House” at the Waldron, is a serious, committed, artistically vibrant, piece of theatre. It’s great to have an opportunity to see a classic in a fine live production.
. The Detour/BAAC production of “A Doll’s House” at the John Waldron Arts Center plays Fridays and Saturdays at eight and Sundays at two through October twenty-sixth.