On Stage

A Doll's House

Two takes on Ibsen

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Nora Helmer’s husband is a clueless jerk who treats his wife like brainless chattel, but that didn’t stop audiences who first watched Danish playwright Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House from being aghast when her character chose to leave her spouse—and her children—behind at the end of the three-act play.

When the work by the father of modern drama premiered at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre in 1879, the controversy wasn’t just contained to those who’d seen the production. Nope, citizens far and wide were concerned it wasn’t realistic that a woman seeking individual self-fulfillment would make the decision to flee from a man who refused to acknowledge the sacrifices she’d made for him over the years—including forging her father’s name for a loan designed to save her husband’s life.

While some reviewers might have rather seen Nora commit suicide than break the societal norms of the day—something she contemplates more than once during the telling of the tale—time has proven that Ibsen’s masterwork was a precursor to the concept that males and females should be equal when it comes to making partnerships work, and that women are most definitely not dolls, or property, or clueless about the way the world goes round.

This weekend and next, two separate productions of A Doll’s House in Bellingham will invite audiences to once again contemplate why thematic elements of the play are still relevant in our contemporary society (Google “Harvey Weinstein” if you need a starting point).

At Western Washington University, tickets are going fast for the second weekend of performances at the school’s intimate DUG Theater. Directed by Evan Mueller, the rendition of Ibsen’s masterwork also utilizes a dramaturge to help give the historical context of what was going on when the play debuted. Additionally, going through the intense rehearsal schedule gives drama students a peek at what they can expect when they graduate.

“Something that’s exciting about theater at Western is the way our productions give students the opportunity to work closely with faculty in a process that mirrors the professional world,” Mueller says.

Producing a seasoned drama is also a way for Bellingham High School students to get real-world experience in the theatrical world. They’ll be doing this, in spades, from Nov. 2-4 and 8-11 at the school’s Performing Arts Center. To add another layer to the complexities of A Doll’s House, the cast changes nightly, meaning the Nora you’ll see gain her independence on opening night will not be the same Nora you’ll see do the same thing on closing night. Would Ibsen approve? I think so.

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