Review: Different Stages' A DOLL'S HOUSE is an Excellent Rendering of the Ibsen Classic

By: Jun. 27, 2019
Review: Different Stages' A DOLL'S HOUSE is an Excellent Rendering of the Ibsen Classic
(l-r) Catherine Williams and Nate Dunaway
Photography by Bret Brookshire
Courtesy of Different Stages Theatre

A DOLL'S HOUSE is the latest offering from Different Stages Theatre. Written by celebrated playwright, Henrik Ibsen and adapted by Frank McGuiness, the play premiered in 1879 and has since become one of the most popular and analyzed pieces of theatrical literature. Sending shockwaves through original audiences; the play was considered controversial since it challenges the 19th-century concept of marriage and a woman's place in a male-dominated society.

The play follows the story of Nora Helmer (Catherine Williams), a seemingly carefree housewife and her domineering husband, Torvald (Nate Dunaway). When Torvald fell ill a few years prior, Nora borrowed a large sum of money from Nils Kronstag (Jamie Rogers) to save his life. Knowing this would go against her husband's wishes, Nora never told Torvald of the debt while continuing to make payments secretly to the disgraced money lender. When Kronstag shows up at the home on Christmas Eve demanding repayment and future job security, Nora's world is turned upside down as the family unravels.

Leading the cast, Catherine Williams is a revelation as Nora. Williams is able to capture the complexity of the character which is both full of youthful exuberance and an iron-clad will. Williams' unwavering energy and focus are met by her costar, Nate Dunaway as Torvald. Dunaway's deep understanding of his character allows Torvald to be portrayed with an intimidating obsession for control with an underlying childlike fragility. The pair's dynamic chemistry is captivating with Dunaway's Torvald grasping for the power innately possessed by Williams' Nora.

As the primary supporting characters, Emily Villareal as Kristine Linde and Stephen Fay as Doctor Rank are able to react and respond beautifully to the rest of the ensemble while injecting scenes with a healthy dose of personality. An unexpected highlight of the production is the performances of Eloise Norton and Anuart Zarate as the Helmer children. Commendably, these young actors pick up cues quickly and play their roles with enthusiasm. Additionally, Jamie Rogers, Angela Marotta, and Sherrie Wollenhaupt round out the cast and competently fulfill the remaining roles.

Director Norman Blumensaadt thoroughly executes this production and Ibsen's words. Blumensaadt keeps the staging uncomplicated allowing audiences to focus on the performances of the ensemble. This approach allows theatre-goers to fully experience the tension, urgency, and inevitability of this gripping drama. This precision is also visible throughout the production's set design by Anne Marie Gordon. The minimal 19th-century aesthetic leaves parts of the stage exposed, giving the impression of actually viewing inside a dollhouse. Costuming by Emily Cawood is also period appropriate and detailed, presenting each character with a distinct style and feel.

Different Stages' production of A DOLL'S HOUSE is an excellent rendering of the Ibsen classic. As it did when it originally premiered, the drama holds a mirror up to what is considered acceptable in a society, without judgment or bias. The show's observant nature starkly highlights the place and power of women, a topic which still audibly resonates with audience members today. No matter what your knowledge of theatre or the work of Ibsen is, this compelling production is not one you'll want to miss.

A DOLL'S HOUSE is now playing at the TSP Playhouse (First Baptist Church - 901 Trinity St. 4th Floor, 78701) through July 13th. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm. *Added performance Tuesday, July 9th at 7:30pm. No performance July 4th.

Running time (approximately):two hours and thirty minutes, with two ten-minute intermissions

Tickets: $15-$25 Thursdays

$20-$30 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

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