By Mark Alvarez
Special Correspondent, The Selective Echo
Plan-B Theatre Company humbly declares that paths open up for us. But Plan-B’s good fortune actually arises from a commitment to community exemplified in rich partnerships, the cultivation of Utah playwrights and a twenty-plus-year history of dedication to unique and socially conscious theatre. In short, Plan-B is good.
On August 28, Plan-B in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah, presented a staged reading of ‘A Doll House’ by Henrik Ibsen, translated from the Norwegian by Eric Samuelsen. The presentation built on the Script in Hand series, which Plan-B started in 2004.
Jerry Rapier, the director of ‘A Doll House’ and Plan-B’s producing director, spoke before the presentation and quickly dispatched the notion that theater was a dying art: 450 people were in attendance at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
In notes about the play, translator Eric Samuelsen wrote, ‘”A Doll House” examines gender roles, social constraints and the power of secrets through the seemingly happy marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer.’ Samuelsen, who has written several exceptionally original plays for Plan-B, nicely highlighted Ibsen’s humor.
The play begins on Christmas Eve 1879 with Nora, read by Lauren Noll, giving instructions to a maid so that the children do not see Christmas preparations early. Nora generously tips a porter and quickly eats a macaroon.
Soon Torvald, read by Jay Perry, begins calling Nora pet names like skylark and squirrel. Before Torvald enters the room, Nora hides the macaroons.
Nora shows Torvald what she has bought, and Torvald playfully labels her a spendthrift. Nora notes the promotion Torvald has received and how much money he will be making. But Torvald cautions that the raise will take some time, and he gives his wife some lessons about money. He makes a joke about Nora’s sweet tooth and suggests she has had a macaroon or two, which Nora denies.
Noll established Nora as animated and childlike in the presence of Torvald, yet the actress nimbly adapts Nora to other situations and challenges. Through ‘A Doll House,’ she is largely a child to her husband, a playmate with her children, a businesswoman in secret and a negotiator.
Perry plays Torvald as doting on and patronizing toward Nora, but he does it in such a good-humored manner as to suggest an ignorance of innocence, not ill intention.
Torvald and Nora perhaps were raised for and then trapped in the roles of a traditional and structured society. Life was relatively easy on them, and experience never truly shook them from those roles.
Nils Krogstad, read by Joe Debevc, and Kristine Linde, read by Deena Marie Manzanares, are two characters raised in the same society, yet they have had experiences that did shake them from their roles. Nils, like Torvald, is an attorney, but he has gone through rough times and learned not to trust’pretty phrases.’ Nils works for Torvald at a bank.
For the sake of her mother and two brothers, Kristine once ‘sold herself’ into a marriage with a man who later left her a childless widow. She learned enough not to sell herself again.
Crucial to ‘A Doll House’ is a forgery Nora once committed to borrow money for a trip necessary to restore Torvald’s health. Torvald is unaware of what Nora did for him.
Nils is the moneylender, and he threatens Nora with blackmail if she does not persuade Torvald to treat him favorably. Nora speaks on behalf of Nils to Torvald, but Torvald, unaware of the blackmail threat and the forgery, immediately sends word to fire Nils at the bank. He worries that his reputation could suffer if he allows his wife to influence a business decision.
Nils responds to his firing with a letter to Torvald that speaks of the forgery and how Nils will use the information. Nora sees the letter in Torvald’s box, and she does what she can to delay Torvald’s opening it. Nora talks with Kristine about how to deal with the situation.
Nils was once in love with Kristine, and Kristine tells Nora that she will request that Nils ask Torvald to return the letter unopened. She believes he will do this.
When Kristine and Nils talk, they believe that despite their flawed pasts, they can still make a life together. Nils is willing to retrieve the letter, but Kristine makes the crucial decision in ‘A Doll House’: Torvald should see the letter so that Nora and Torvald can face reality.
Nora has always believed that Torvald would make any sacrifice for her, but when she sees Torvald react to the letter, she has the experience that shakes her from her role. Torvald becomes furious with how the forgery could affect his reputation and standing. He tells Nora, ‘you’ve wrecked my future.’ Torvald gives no thought to how Nora might be affected.
Nora, who had contemplated suicide to save her husband, is shocked that Torvald has not done anything to defend her, that Torvald has not made any sacrifice to protect her. Torvald’s only concern is to handle the incident so that he is not hurt.
A note arrives for Torvald. Nils has sent Torvald the evidence of the forgery.
Torvald expresses that he has been saved. Then he says that they both have been saved. Torvald reverts to his playful self and tells Nora that he forgives her, that the sordid mess should be forgotten.
Nora has been shaken from her role in Torvald’s house, and she leaves him and it resolved to find out what is right for her.
Torvald may be shaken by the experience of watching his doll leave him. The door slams.
The Plan-B reading was beautifully timed. Following a summer respite coming on the heels of an outstanding 20th anniversary season, Plan-B’s presentation of Samuelsen’s translation of this resilient classic serves notice that another memorable season is on its way. In fact, the forthcoming season features works by three Utah women playwrights, all focusing on strong women whose own resilience is a testament to their potential for everlasting empowerment.
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