By Amanda VanNostrand.
Dolls are to be played with. To be dressed, to be manipulated, to be picked up and used when convenient, and strewn away in a toy box or under a dusty couch when a purpose has been served. The prettiest ones are often displayed on a shelf or stuffed away in a box too fancy for a closet, but there nonetheless. A Doll’s House is showing at the Arden Theatre now through February 25th, and this show gives new meaning to the word, ‘doll’. (Or does it?) A Doll’s House premiered in 1879 and, according to Jerry, the Producing Artistic Director at the Arden, it is one of the most produced plays in the world. As women speak up and are emboldened to find who they are in a world that often seems to define them and quiet them, this show walks alongside the cause and fights the good fight in a way that is simply shocking.
A Doll’s House is the story of Nora (Katharine Powell). Nora lives in a small flat with her husband and three children. She enjoys beautiful things such as dresses, succulent things such as chocolates, the attention of her husband, the adoration of her children, and the loyalty of her friends. Nora is married to Torvald (Cody Nickell) and the two are head-over-heels in love. Torvald adores Nora, commonly comparing her sweetness to that of a child. The two have three children: Jon (Benjamin Snyder), Ivar (Zach O’Connor), and a baby daughter, Emmy. The children are cared for by their nanny Anna (Joilet F. Harris), and they are infatuated with their mother. Nora’s life seems to be quaint and lovely. As Nora’s story unfolds, however, we learn that she has a secret from her husband, and one that has the potential to damage the apparently fragile life they live. Through this realization, Nora and Torvald’s friends come and go, revealing that there is more to Nora’s life and secret than first meets the eye. Nora’s friend Kristine Linde (Becky Chong) shows up looking for a job, Dr. Rank (Scott Greer) has news for the family and for Nora in particular, and Krogstad (Akeem Davis), an employee at Torvald’s bank, makes several unwelcome (yet illuminating) appearances. Torvald’s loyalty to Nora is challenged and his actions reap consequences that are unforeseen and potentially fatal to the bonds that hold the family together.
There is a particular scene of A Doll’s House that may take a while to recover from. Nora has received life-altering news, and is worried to her very core about what is to come. At the same time, she is preparing to attend a costume party with her husband, and she wishes to practice her dance. Torvald sits on the couch, guitar on his knee, and plays a song as Nora dances around him. As Torvald plays music of his choice, he shouts directions to her. As he instructs her on how to move and makes alterations and adjustments to her body, Nora’s face remains smiling; a smile plastered on the outside while the audience is aware that she is frightened with worry on the inside. She dances and dances as Torvald shouts to her. Words such as, “you’re not listening!” There is a line later on that states, “You’re dancing as if your life depends on it.” This, the audience comes to realize, is what Nora’s life is made of. Her life is her dance, and the dance is for her husband’s enjoyment and entertainment. Nora later reveals her feelings, letting Torvald know that she has never found her own way. She adopted her father’s opinions at the start of her life and found her way to Torvald where he silenced her and handed her the direction and choreography that he wished for her to perform. Nora is a doll, painted smile and all, and she is trapped in a doll’s house.
The cast of A Doll’s House does an adequate job carrying such a heavy, meaningful story across the stage. Though Powell and Nickell do not appear to have the greatest chemistry in the scenes where they are supposedly in love, the slightly forced interactions between the two, by the end, coincide with the strain in their characters relationship. The children in the show, Zach O’Connor and Benjamin Snyder, are phenomenal actors, and in their short appearance they easily win the admiration of the audience. Akeem Davis does a great job in his dramatic role of Krogstad, portraying his character’s angst supremely well. The entire cast holds talent and as a whole they work well in bringing this story, and the emotions it holds, to life.
The scenic design (Jorge Cousineau) is unique and quite appealing, as the audience borders the scenery. The set is made up of the family’s living room, and contains simple furniture such as a couch, table, and chairs. The living room is rectangular and each edge of the rectangle holds the audience’s (gradually raised) seating. Characters enter and exit from each of the four corners of the living room, where there are doors just beyond the audience’s reach. Though the scenery itself is simple and certainly holds little extravagance, the placement of the audience gives the show a distinctive look and feel, and is well done. Add the element of historicity – 19th century furniture and costumes (design by Olivera Gajic) and you can imagine the atmosphere created.
A Doll’s House is disturbing. For most of the show the audience may wonder what all of the hype about feminism is in regard to this play, but viewers should prepare to be floored by the end scenes. The words spoken in the last thirty minutes are powerful. Torvald and Nora are set for devastation, and the two have inadvertently placed it upon themselves and each other. This is a show that is more than worth a view.