BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE at Iowa Stage: Opening a New Season with a Slam!
In 1879, a door slam was heard around the world when Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" concluded for the first time. While the play is known for its ending, Iowa Stage is using it to open two new beginning for them, the beginning of a new season, and the beginning of a new location. I feel that this added to the buzz and excitement for "A Doll's House," and the upcoming "A Doll's House: Part 2" being done in repertoire. The combination of a new performance space and a new season made this a dazzling evening of theatre.
The story begins with Nora coming home from Christmas Shopping to what appears to be a happy household. As her husband Torvald enters, we find out they have come into money over the last year. He believes it to be a loan from her father, but we soon find out from one of Torvald's employee's Nils Krogstad, that Nora signed for the loan, forging her deceased father's name. Nils tells Nora how he is going to blackmail her if she doesn't get Torvald to give him his job back at the bank. This sets off a series of events with Nora leaving everything behind her.
Going into this show, one of the things I found myself wondering is how would what I've grown to love about Iowa Stage be translated to the Stoner Theatre. One of those things is the beautiful sets they use for their shows. At the Kum and Go Theatre, they were able to have a different seating arrangement for every show, while the Stoner Theatre as a set amount of seats in a set arrangement. I am thrilled to be able to say that the set for "A Doll's House", and next weeks "A Doll's House: Part 2", is exquisite. I was in awe of the set as soon as I walked into the theatre. What I appreciated most about Jay Jagrim's set is how it let the audience glance into the Helmer House, as though we are watching this happen in real-time. It takes you out of the idea that the play is 140 years old, and lets you look at it through our current lens. I also appreciated the way the set was designed, it made the door the focal point of the set. The detail work put into the set made it one of my favorite Iowa Stage set designs to date.
While the set was a tremendous asset to the show, in order to pull off a production of "A Doll's House", you need a talented cast to not only bring the characters to life, but also make them relatable. The cast of this production brought together by director Jennifer Ross Nostralia, are able to accomplish that and more through their performances. One of those cast members was Michael Tallman in the role of Nils Krogstad. I appreciated the layers he brought to his performance. While each layer was there form the beginning, he allowed the text to amplify which layer was prevalent in the scene. One time we see this is during his first scene with Nora, where we get a sense of desperation from him, but we don't quite understand where that is coming from until act 2.
One of my favorite things about seeing shows in when something in the show, be it a character or something that happens, elicits a response from the audience. Benjamin Sheridan's portrayal of Torvald did just that. The way he delivered his lines at times had the audience members squirming. That squirming came from saying thing s that would have been ok for a man to say in the time period that the show takes place, but would be terrible to say today. There was a moment when a person sitting next vocalized their distaste for the character. Performances like Sheridan's are the type of performance that sticks with you after the show is done.
The woman at the center of that is Nora played brilliantly by Tiffany Flory. She did a great job of bringing Nora's struggle to life about the woman she is expected to be and the woman she truly is. We see this during the show when at one moment she is playing the happy housewife and then the next we see this independent woman starting to break out of the shell society has put her in. The moments she switches are instantaneous. While the first switch from the housewife to the independent woman was a little jarring to me, it grabbed my attention and gave me an understanding of the character I wasn't expecting. Once I could see what she was doing with her character, what at first seemed jarring, became something that was very natural.
The door slamming "A Dolls House" is a tremendous way to start the season. I appreciated that they staged the ending in a way that said it was the end of the show, but there is more to come. This is fitting as next week becomes the Second Company to do a repertoire of both "A Doll's House" and "A Doll's House: Part 2". As part of the rep, they have three opportunities where you can see both shows in one day. Performances of both shows continue through October 13. Keep an eye out for our review of "A Doll's House: Part 2" will come after it opens next weekend. For more information about these shows, visit https://www.iowastage.org/
Review written by DC Felton
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