The Banyan’s production of this Ibsen classic provides affecting drama.
By Kay Kipling
One of the pleasures of the summer months is the opportunity to see plays produced by the Banyan Theater Company, especially when it’s offering modern classics or contemporary drama not necessarily found elsewhere locally.
Colleen McDonnell and Eric Hissom in a scene from the
Banyan Theater Company's A Doll House
Such is the case with this season’s first offering, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House (usually titled A Doll’s House, but apparently A Doll House is the more correct translation from the Norwegian). While this work has certainly been seen on local stages before, it remains a play that’s ripe for subtle differences in interpretation, meaning that one production can be quite different from another, providing different satisfactions.
In this case, A Doll House (directed by Gil Lazier) is certainly not trying any radical new directions in its story of a young wife, Nora (Colleen McDonnell) who has gotten herself in a bind due to some secret financial dealings she’s employed to rescue her husband’s failing health. From the outset we are cued to Nora’s nature and the nature of her marriage to Torvald (Eric Hissom): She is accustomed to playing the role of a light-hearted, sometimes giddy child-wife, and he is accustomed to indulgently watching her do it, while himself playing the role of a sometimes stern, sometimes doting husband-father who pays her bills.
The status quo changes with the arrival on the scene of an old friend of Nora’s, Kristine (Wendy Bagger), who has seen hard times, and the man who knows Nora’s secret, Krogstad (Brad Makarowski). These people have been damaged, and since damaged people are always more interesting, in the first act of the production we are rather more drawn to them, perhaps, than to Nora and Torvald.
That changes with the increasing desperation Nora endures as her world begins to crumble under the pressure of Krogstad’s threats to disclose her forgery of her father’s name on the contract she signed with him. The tension builds as Nora enters a state of mind where she considers suicide, even while anticipating that Torvald will attempt “something glorious” to save her.
McDonnell and Hissom are well cast as Nora and Torvald, as are Bagger, Makarowski, and Bradford Wallace as family friend Dr. Rank, who has his own sorrows that end up touching us as well. In this production, both Hissom and Lazier have worked to make us see Torvald, not as a fool or an insufferably smug chauvinist, but as a man with genuine feelings for his wife who nevertheless fails to see the artificial state of the relationship they share. So he’s subject to our compassion, not our contempt. And their final, climactic scene together is genuine and piercing.
More than 125 years after A Doll House premiered, it may be impossible for us today to fully understand the sensation that ending caused. But it can still amaze us that Nora’s closing of a door continues to echo down through the centuries.
A Doll House continues in the Banyan’s production at the Cook Theatre through July 15; for tickets call 552-1032 or visit banyantheatercompany.com.