Stephanie Gularte’s original adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 Norwegian domestic drama, A Doll’s House, thoughtfully explores the individual’s yearning for self-discovery and expression within restricted societal and cultural roles. Directed by Janis Stevens, Gularte’s adaptation is set in a comfortable but conventional home during the holidays in post-World War II America. In the mid 20th century, American women had similar societal roles as their late 19th century European counterparts. Post-war American women were expected to maintain a comfortable domestic space and a peaceful family. Ibsen’s 1879 version of the play generated great controversy due to his critique of Victorian life, which challenged accepted ethics and gender roles.
The story follows the transformation of Nora Helmer. Played by Brittni Barger, Nora is a young housewife who lives with her husband, Thomas (Ryan Snyder), and their three kids. At first the play appears to be about a stereotypical mid 20th century American family but it is soon disclosed that Nora has a secret, which causes her a great amount of internal conflict. If revealed, she fears it will also destroy her family. Barger skillfully expresses Nora’s process of self-discovery as she grapples with the severity of her problem and her discontentment within her household.
Elena Wright gives a realistic and compassionate performance of Nora’s old school friend, Christine Linde, who arrives in town to find work and an apartment after falling on hard times. Nora confides in Christine about how she secretly and illegally secured a loan that would allow the family to take a trip to Cuba to aid Thomas’s recovery from wartime trauma. Once Nora’s secret has been revealed to the audience, her cheerful trophy-wife persona falls away.
In addition to the trust Nora has in Christine, Nora also opens up to her children’s nannie, Annie. Sandra Hill portrays a wise, warmhearted version of Annie, who is like a mother to Nora because she also took care of her when she was a child. While Christine and Annie have difficult lives in the play, they represent the lives of women who exist outside the domestic sphere.
Although society has certainly changed a lot since 1948, A Doll’s House still contains many controversial elements that will leave viewers pondering Ibsen’s ideas days after leaving the theater. All of the actors give relatable and multi-dimensional performances that inspire inner reflection and remind viewers to be true to their values, no matter the circumstances. This play is well worth seeing.
“A Doll’s House” is showing at the Capital Stage from October 21–November 22, 2015. The Capital Stage is located at 2215 J St, Sacramento, CA 95816.
Words: Justina Martino.