BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE at Vortex Theater
A Doll's House - Vortex Theater
It's the 1920s. As a woman, you need to please your husband, your children, your community. You need to keep a beautiful house and need to keep yourself beautiful as well - it's especially important, as your husband wants his "little bird" to just be lovely and free of worry. After all, why should there be anything to worry about, especially since your husband has just been named manager of the bank?
This is where A Doll's House begins - Nora (Abby Van Gerpen) seems determined to make this Christmas extra special for the family, sine there is apparently more money to go around. Her husband Torvald (Brennan Foster) pats her on the head and scolds her, warning her not to spend too much. He sets the tone for the action to come - by treating Nora like a possession, a child, an inferior to his own intelligence, he sets her in motion.
Little does Torvald know that Nora has borrowed a copious amount of money from his very own bank, from an employee that he wants to fire. Krogstad (Ryan Dobbs), the employee, is threatening to reveal Nora's secret - that she forged documents to procure a loan - unless she appeals to Torvald to keep Krogstad.
Meanwhile, Nora's old friend Christine Lind (Emiy Carvey) appears, widowed and looking for work. Nora promises to put in a good word with Torvald for her at the bank. The timing is not great, as Torvald wants to fire Krogstad, and now Nora has created what seems like an inescapable trap. In order to preserve Torvald's reputation, she decides she needs to leave him and their children and never return.
Ibsen's play was extremely controversial for the 1870s - women were meant to be seen and not heard, objects of men's affection with little ambition or ability of their own. Nora wants to fit that mold, but seems fated to fall from grace. Ms. Van Gerpen plays this inner conflict well, but needs more external support from Foster and Dobbs. Foster is simply too nice and likeable, and doesn't seem to give Nora enough to fuel her need to escape. Dobbs plays Krogstad's anger and frustration, but doesn't quite give enough to propel her to abandon her life. The two characters that give Nora more impetus to move are Christine Lind and Dr. Rank (Frederick Ponslov), a longtime friend and confidant of both Nora and Torvald.
Nora's relationship with Dr. Rank seems to be the most fraught in the piece - he is much older than she, but is in love with her. Nora is conflicted whether to use Rank's feelings to manipulate him into giving her money and saving her from ruin. Mr. Ponslov is a good combination of a sympathetic friend and inappropriate older man, pushing his advantage with a young "helpless" woman. This conflict is what ultimately drives Nora from the house and the relationship.
All in all, the ensemble is strong, but we need to see how this situation has become unbearable for Nora, which just doesn't ever come to be. When she decides to leave forever, it seems to come from out of left field, since Torvald, while pandering, is not a monster. Neither is Rank or Krogstad, for that matter - Van Gerpen just seems too perky and upbeat throughout, even when grappling with her past.
On the technical side, the set is beautiful and the performance was well-staged; the lighting and sound was superior as well. The Vortex is a great sized space for this type of show, and doing both the original Doll's House and the newer Doll's House 2 in repertory is a smart choice. While this production seemed a little flat, it did leave me looking forward to the second play, which we saw later in the same day.
Kudos to Vortex for bringing classic plays such as this to Albuquerque, while embracing newer works as well