A Doll’s House
Often revered as an important voice in the women’s rights movement, Henrik Ibsen instead referred to himself as an accidental activist. His role as a playwright was never to push a social agenda, in his view, but to truthfully portray his characters in authentic situations even if that meant risking his career and going against social norms and standards.
One such example, and one of his most heralded works, "A Doll’s House" is on display on the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park until Apr. 21.
Nora and Torvald Helmer (played by real-life married couple Gretchen Hall and Fred Arsenault) are a younger couple struggling to make a life for themselves. When faced with a sickness that threatened his life, Nora and Torvald decide to travel abroad in an effort to help him recover. To ensure the trip happens, and to save her husband’s life, Nora makes a decision that leads to some illegal doings.
Some years later Nora and Torvald find themselves on the cusp of obtaining a life they worked so hard for only to have Nora’s misdeed come back to haunt her. Now confronted with her actions and the possibility of losing the life they struggled to obtain, the couple is forced to strip away their own façade and face the ugly reality of their situation, and their marriage.
Director Kirsten Brandt, a regular of the San Diego theater scene, takes full advantage of the intimate space, the intimacy of the lead couple, and the intimate setting of the play. Ibsen, noted for being among the first playwrights to portray women as sexual beings, included some rather sensual undertones and Brandt gladly highlighted them. Where most directors choose to hint at these minor themes, she puts them on full display and it helps create another layer to a play with serious depth.
Casting an in real life married couple in Hall and Arsenault only helps in creating an atmosphere like this. Hall is brilliant as the well-meaning Nora who even would sacrifice her own life for her husband and Arsenault is delightfully irritating as her opposite in almost every way. Their comfort and familiarity added a sense of complexity and believability to the show.
Often absent of traditional villains, Ibsen still creates in his manuscripts characters that produce a prevailing conflict and Nils Krogstad fulfills that role. Portrayed by San Diego native Richard Baird, Krogstag is one character that evokes anger and sympathy and Baird navigates these intricacies well. You just don’t know whether you want to hug him or hit him, but rest assured at every moment his presence is known you will have some opinion.
Sean Fanning is a one-man tour de force in San Diego theater creating spectacular sets with regularity and this one does not disappoint. David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting design was detailed down to the shifting lighting patterns as the day/night unfolded before the audience.
Attention to detail was not lost on Alina Borovikova’s costuming either. If it’s all about the little things, noticing the scuffed shoes of the subservient characters versus the perfectly polished ones donned by the Helmers show the care and attention that went into dressing each person.
The accidental activist managed to find themes of truth that resonate as much today as they did in 1879, when Ibsen’s original work was published. "A Doll’s House" is a standard in high school English classrooms and continues to be produced, reinvented, and reimagined well over a century after Ibsen passed away.
A part of The Old Globe’s Classics ’Up Close Series,’ a whole new generation now has the opportunity to see one of the most important works of the late 19th Century.
"A Doll’s House" runs through April 21 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. For info or tickets call 619-23-GLOBE or visit www.TheOldGlobe.org.