BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE is Something Glorious, at Shaking the Tree
From now until May 7, you could sit around and wait for something glorious to happen. Or you could go see A DOLL'S HOUSE at Shaking the Tree and guarantee that it does.
A brief history lesson: Henrik Ibsen (aka the Father of Modern Drama) published A DOLL'S HOUSE in 1879, advancing a new form of theatre -- realism -- and also shocking society with the crazy new idea that women are people too. The play centers on the Helmer family -- Torvald, who is just about to become the manager of a bank and thus enter a higher social class, and Nora -- his wife, who spends her time making Torvald happy and playing with their three children.
But Nora has a secret. Years ago, Torvald had been deathly ill, with the only cure being a move to a more temperate climate. The couple didn't have the money, so, unbeknownst to Torvald, Nora had borrowed the money by forging her father's signature (women, of course, couldn't borrow money on their own). As Torvald prepares to take control of the bank, events unfold that threaten to reveal the truth and Nora realizes that all her life she's been nothing but a doll and that it's time she starts being a human being with her own ideas and feelings.
It's a powerful piece of feminist theatre -- so much so that it was banned in Britain and a different, less controversial ending was written for German audiences (which Ibsen didn't like at all). Now, nearly 140 years later, it would be nice to think that we've worked out gender equality. But we haven't (see the Gender Inequality Index), and the themes of A DOLL'S HOUSE still resonate. As a fellow theatre-goer leaned over and said to me at the end of the play, it's "unfortunately timeless."
In this production, the "something glorious" (you'll get this reference after you see it) starts as soon as you walk in the door and see Jenny Ampersand's gorgeous set. The theatre space has been transformed into the Helmers' home, and when you enter the theatre, you're actually passing through their front door. The theatre seating is in the drawing room, which is separated by see-through walls from Nora's room, Torvald's study, and the dining room as well. The result is a fully immersive experience -- you aren't just witnessing the struggle, you're a part of it. I recommend sitting in the second, elevated row on either side for the best vantage, and also getting there early enough to take it all in.
The cast brings the rest of the magic. Nikki Weaver is perfection as Nora. Physically, she is rather doll-like -- small enough that she fits into a child's rocking chair and Torvald can lift her easily. But you can feel that she holds within her a lifetime's worth of pent-up thoughts, emotions, and desires. And as they start to come out, she herself seems to expand into an indomitable force. By the end of the play, she seems 8 feet tall.
Jacob Coleman is also great. His Torvald is so frustrating! Moralistic and self-righteous -- I experienced the smallest bit of schadenfreude watching his perfect little life crumble around him. I also very much enjoyed Jamie Rea in the role of Nora's friend Kristine Linde, who proves that practical women can be desirable too, and Ben Newman, who continues his streak of heart-breaking performances as the kind and sickly Dr. Rank.
Overall, director Samantha Van Der Merwe's vision is strong and the execution flawless. I highly recommend this show.
A DOLL'S HOUSE plays through May 7. Tickets and info here: http://www.shaking-the-tree.com/a-dolls-house.html
Photo credit: Gary Norman