A Look into “A Doll’s House”

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the University’s production of A Doll’s House at Lauren K. Woods Theatre. Written by Henrik Ibsen, this adaptation featured the characteristics of the original work with a modern-day twist: the lead female character wears clothes that are trendy according to today’s standards and maintains a contemporary outlook on life.

When I first entered the theatre, there was a Christmas tree, fireplace, and white couches present on stage— a set reminiscent of an IKEA mock living room. It had a cozy atmosphere and contributed to the intimacy between the actors and crowd.

At the beginning of the show, the theatre was greeted by a black-out and a voiceover from lead character and student-director Annie Sacks, which pertained to the usual “silence your cell phones” spiel. After this quick announcement, the play started.

In the first few scenes, I was convinced that Annie Sacks, student-director who also played lead character Nora Helmer, was a parody of a self-absorbed celebrity. She entered the stage wearing a blouse, jeans, and black boots, which is a typical outfit for a star.

Besides the choice of clothing, Sacks was also holding a Louis Vuitton bag. I found it amusing she was carrying a Starbucks cup, too.

There was also a scene in Act I that was a great example of improv by Sacks. As she was opening a box of macaroons, one fell to the ground seemingly by accident. Whether it was scripted or not, Sacks still executed the scene flawlessly.

The patriarchal role Tolvard Helmer, who is Nora’s husband, was played by Kiefer Walsh. Tolvard is a manager at his bank, and his job becomes a focal point of the play. His position reminds me of the “banker” stereotype in the 21st century, particularly those who major in finance and accounting then receive a job offer at a Big Four accounting firm or an investment bank.

The two leads’ performances and on-stage chemistry was a highlight for me. Though Sacks and Walsh were playing a married couple, the crowd could sense their friendship with each other off the stage.
As for the supporting actors, Mike Rue filled the role of Dr. Rank while Daphne Valenzuela played Christine Linde, and James Saunders performed as Nils Krogstad. Saunders’ role was especially important to the main conflict as it was a factor in Nora’s departure in the second act.

During the play itself, I had the same repeating thought: Nora Helmer had past trauma with the men in her life. The line, “You didn’t love me, you just had fun being in love with me,” struck me as a reference to the “daddy issues” in Nora’s earlier life.

The nicknames and undermining of Nora’s character were cringe at certain points, but I know it filled a purpose for the show. I would have altered the names from “skylark” and “squirrel” to something more modern, which would have better fit the intended theme.

Other aspects of the show surprised me as well. Tolverd consistently gaslighted Nora in every aspect of their marriage, and there were multiple instances in which Tolverd accused Nora of not trusting him as her husband.

I also enjoyed the no-contact split imposed by Nora in the last scene. Whether or not the concluding act was originally written in this way, it conveyed a realistic comparison to a messy break-up in the 21st century.

Adding to this, I immediately thought of the quote “if you love someone, set them free.” Nora Helmer was leaving her husband out of respect for her own mind, body, and soul. She was focused on growth and essentially becoming “that girl,” which alludes to the modern girl boss persona.

The play ended with Tolverd alone in dim lighting, an ambiance that perfectly represented the mood and heartbreak Tolverd experienced when Nora left him. It provided a dramatic effect, and I thought it was the right segue to “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus which played as house music as the audience left the theatre.
The juxtaposition between the patriarchy in 1879 and the trends shown in the 21st century complimented each other perfectly. If you’re interested in seeing A Doll’s House, it will run at Woods Theatre through March 9.