A good intention becomes a nightmare in The Old Globe’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
By Diana Saenger
These days it’s not uncommon for married couples to keep secrets from one another. As playwright Henrik Ibsen reveals in his 1879 drama, “A Doll’s House,” secrets were also a part of marriages in those days — and when unveiled, just as grave.
As the curtain rises, it’s bitter cold in Norway but Nora Helmer (Gretchen Hall) is on a Christmas high after returning home with gifts for her children and husband Torvald (Fred Arsenault). Nora is even more excited when old friend Kristine Linde (Nisi Sturgis) shows up. Nora is proud to be in a position to help her friend get a job, using her husband’s recent promotion at the bank to see it through.
The light fades on this happy-go-lucky marriage when the subject of money arises. Nora is already spending her husband’s pay raise, but Torvald warns her not to, as the money won’t appear for months and they need to spend wisely.
The giddy delight Nora beams about her life begins to dim when she must face the music over what she’s already done. Years earlier, when her husband was ill, Nora forged her dead father’s signature on a loan. She has continued to borrow on the household money Torvald gives her to make small payments on the loan to the bank.
Greed is an exciting element in any play and Ibsen must have been rubbing his hands together and smiling broadly when he thought up this plot. That’s because fellow banker Nils Krogstad (Richard Baird) is licking his lips at the chance to blackmail Nora knowing that Torvald (his contemporary) is getting a raise and he is not.
The cast of “A Doll’s House” is superb. Real-life couple Hall and Arsenault bring extra chemistry to their roles, which also ups the drama factor when it appears everything about their lives as they know it is in jeopardy.
Hall’s transformation from giddy housewife and mother to desperate woman worried her husband will discover her secret, make every minute of this intriguing scenario tick with intensity.
Arsenault is equally versatile in moving from a loving and passionate husband to Nora’s worse nightmare when the facts of what she’s done are revealed to his horror and perceived shame.
Tensions increase when Nora learns her husband wants to fire Krogstad from his job. She knows Krogstad will reveal all if she can’t save his job at the bank. She begins to seek help from her friend Dr. Rank (Jack Koenig) but when he starts to come on to her, she can’t seem to find a way out of her dilemma.
Back in the day, some audiences thought Ibsen’s surprising end to the play was inappropriate, however, he maintained it should be presented just as he wrote it. Adapted by Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey and Kirsten Brandt, and directed by Brandt, the world premiere adaptation of “A Doll’s House” is part of the Globe’s Classics Up Close series. It’s well worth the price of a ticket, then you can have your own thoughts about the ending.
If you go
What: “A Doll’s House”
When: Matinnes, evenings now to April 21
Where: The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Tickets: From $29
Phone: (619) 23-GLOBE
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