Attending a performance of A Doll’s House, at Kansas City Actor’s Theatre in 2019, as a working wife and mother, was a more visceral experience. I felt every word. I had a knee jerk response to so many things I wondered if it was the same play from 1997.
My husband asked me if the ending speech by Torvald Helmer () to Nora Helmer ( ) had such a strong audience reaction as the work from 1997. The KCAT matinee was a nearly sold out show, and every misstep of Torvald talking down to his wife was met with an audible audience reaction. 1997 was a different era, and I recall a silent audience. Kansas City’s audience was fully engaged in every interaction. Nora’s struggles, to me, and to all of us, feel more raw in our times. We couldn’t meet the work by sitting quietly.
At the time of the play, Hannah Taylor, Dramaturg, explains in her notes, unmarried women were legally considered minors. In this backdrop, it was life or death stakes for Nora to take a loan from a family acquaintance and husband’s employee Krogstad (). There are numerous moments of breakdown and plotting to resolve the debt as the play progresses, highlighting how few prospects women had in that time.
Nora reaches out for money to family friend Dr. Rank (), but cannot bear to finish her request. Mrs. Linde ( ), left with nothing after her husband’s death, has come to ask Torvald and Nora for kindness in giving employment. Mrs. Linde helps the situation as she can, but will not resolve it. Nora’s greatest friend is Anne-Marie ( ), the maid and governess who cares for the children and the home, but she is left out of the mess of it.
Throughout the play, Nora reaches out to these other friends in bits of confidence and whispered secrets away from her husband, but realizes she must rely on herself. She takes the great leap at the end of the third act that is debated and discussed in acting classes and theatre seminars. How does a lark, as Torvald calls her, a woman treated so like a child, grieving and terrified of losing her family, have the strength to walk away? The actor playing Nora must be able to carry this large work, to the end, to show a transformation believably where the author has placed a change of character in a matter of paragraphs.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a masterful pillar of theatre writing that contains a gorgeous challenge for the lead actor playing Nora. This is why this work has stood the test of time, as it contains within the writing a believable set of circumstances but also challenging character development.
In our area, we are receiving something unique in regards to this work. Kansas City Theatre, initiated by the Theatre League, has created an artistic partnership between KCAT and the Unicorn. In the fall, the Unicorn will present A Doll’s House Part 2 by Lucas Hnath, an imagining of what happens to these characters 15 years on. What is brilliant is Kansas City Theatre is so collaborative that the artistic talent will be shared between the two productions. Darren Sextro is directing both.
Students of theatre need to take advantage of this opportunity, to watch how a director takes on two different works, and how two different sets of actors explore texts in the same theme. This is a rare opportunity afforded to see both productions, and the only opportunity known to share artistic production staff. There is still time to make it to Kansas City Actors Theatre, and plenty of time for fall tickets to the Unicorn production.
Author’s note: Any corrections, please contact the author via the original source.
All rights reserved – Jessie Salsbury